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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writers Can Be Touchy!

I'm the kind of person who loves magazine articles based on lists ("Ten Secrets of This" or "Seven Little-Known Tips for That") and so I devoured this Laura Miller article on Salon about five rules for writing novels. It's based, of course, on the kind of fiction Laura Miller enjoys, and so it reflects her personality and tastes, as you might expect.

Personally I found Miller's tips unobjectionable ("Make your main character want something," for example, and "A sense of humor couldn't hurt"). So I was startled by the vitriol the article attracted from some of the 117 commenters. A few examples:

"How to Write Shitty Books that will Sell--That should be the title of this article."

"This is one of the most philistine articles I've ever seen in Salon."

"This is also the advice people continually gave Tolstoy, except, you know, it turned out to be a good thing that he ignored it and went ahead to write a 1000 page masterpiece."

"Who Miller's tips leave out: Sherman Alexie, Tim O'Brien, Jeffrey Eugenides and basically every other living writer who's worth a shit to anyone outside the academy."

Wow--you'd think Miller had gone up to these would-be writers (I assume that's what they are) and personally insulted them and their work!

My meta-advice to other would-be writers: Read how-to-write articles and follow the advice they offer if you find it helpful. If not, don't. (There are plenty of other how-to-write articles that may be more to your liking.) And if you are the next Tolstoy--or even the next Jeffrey Eugenides--you will figure that out soon enough, and then you can laugh with contempt at the "rules" mere mortals find useful.

Until then, why not chill out? Most important, get back to your desk and do some more writing.

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