Sunday, September 16, 2012

Remember that one teacher?

You know the one, right? That teacher that everyone dreaded getting. The one with the hard rep. The one you couldn't make excuses with or sluff assignments. The one that gave you nightmares...

There were only two types of students in that teacher's classes, the ones that made A's and everyone else. The ones that made A's were few, and no one made B's. You either worked your... bottom off or you did poorly. That's just how it worked. You know, except for that one kid that just made good grades without breathing, and everyone hated that kid. You're pretty sure even the teacher hated that kid but couldn't do anything about it.

I think I'm that teacher. Not at school. The kids love me at school. Even though my creative writing class is extra work for the kids (because it's an elective), the students frequently tell me that it's their favorite class. No... I'm that teacher here. Sort of. At least, that's the rep I think I'm getting for all the grammar stuff and my reviews. People are starting to ask me to not read their stuff because they're scared of the review they might get.

Of course, I also have more requests to read than I can keep up with, so I'm sort of okay with the requests to not read.

But here's the thing:
It's not the bad grammar, improper punctuation, and lack of editing that bother me. Not in and of itself, at any rate. If you're doing your best, you've sought out the best help you can find or afford, and you're trying to improve, I can overlook some bad grammar and splotchy commas. It's the people that shrug it off as not important that bother me. That's when  the bad grammar and lack of editing get me all riled up.

The thing that makes me most upset is when the author has the attitude of "hey, I wrote a book, and you should worship me for that." That bothers me. I mean, it really bothers me. And I find that a lot more than you'd probably like to believe. That attitude of "why should I worry about grammar, punctuation, and editing? Those things aren't important, because I wrote a book!" And I want to respond with something like "well, actually..."

It's the attitude that writing is all subjective anyway and therefore doing it correctly isn't important that bothers me. When I see a manuscript out for public consumption that looks like something one of my middle schoolers handed in, and I'm correcting their stuff and helping them to get better, but the author of said manuscript blows off the poor writing as "just my opinion," well, that makes me mad. Because, honestly, that attitude is wrong.

Here's the truth. Are you ready for it? I think it's a hard truth and one a lot of people have an issue with and don't really understand. The TRUTH:

Stories are subjective; writing is not.

It's that simple. Whether I like your story and how you tell your story is completely subjective, but, whether the writing is good or not, well, that's something else entirely. The writing is something that can be graded, and I know, because I do it. Actually, to some extent, stories can be graded, too, or, at least, subjected to objective measures like "hey, you have your character in two places at once, right here" (yes, I am (still) talking to you Snow Crash).

[Oh, and I have a good example of this coming up in a near future review. A story where the writing is very good, perhaps excellent, but the story just never grabbed me.]

The idea of writing being subjective is, honestly, just an excuse to excuse poor writing, and everyone has bought into it to such an extent that that part of it can't be seen anymore. Before I go on, there's a lot here that could be said about agents and publishers and all kinds of stuff, but I'm not talking about any of that. What I do mean is that people, when told their manuscripts need work, fall back on the whole "it's all subjective" thing. That, or they revise every time someone says anything, but they just keep changing the story rather than dealing with the underlying grammar issues.

[Okay, I need to insert here: when you're told that your manuscript needs work and there are a bunch of story suggestions included, that is subjective, because that person is just telling you what your story needs for that one person to like it more. However, when you're told your story needs work and there's a list of grammar/punctuation issues that need to be fixed, that's objective. That's stuff you should pay attention to.]

Before I get off on about 20 different tangents, I'm just gonna stop. This is a complicated topic and it changes from person to person, but, basically, if my rep is becoming that of some kind of grammar fascist, I suppose I'm okay with that, because there's not enough attention on proper writing, right now. Not from indies, certainly not from small publishers (who often have editors with no better than a high school diploma if they have editors at all), and not even from larger, more traditional publishers who have been canning editors to cut back on costs and increase profits.

All I really wanted to say, to clear up, is that I'm not so hard about all of this as it comes off. At least, I'm not so hard on the people that care, are trying, and actually want to improve.

However, I have no sympathy at all for those people who just blow it off as a non-issue or a subjective issue. If you want to have an analogy, and look! I do, it's sort of like a fireman that decides he's only going to put out fires that happen in bathrooms and children's bedrooms. The other fires just aren't important. They may not even be there, you know. Maybe that person wanted that fire in the middle of his living room floor. For roasting marshmallows, you know. Or, maybe, that stove top fire is supposed to be there, like for roasting a pig. It doesn't matter how much work that fireman puts into putting out the bathroom fire, the house is still gonna burn up.

And NOW on to other things!

Friday will be the free release day for part five of Shadow Spinner: "Part Five: The Police Car." Part five is the reintroduction of the Man with No Eyes: reintroduction because there was this post way back when that had him in it (and that exact scene from the linked post didn't actually make it into the book), and, also, reintroduction, because I posted this stuff a long time ago when I was first writing all of it. Anyway, all of that to say, well, be prepared for Friday, but, also, I want to give you a peek at the cover for part five, because it's amazing!
Drop by and tell Rusty what an awesome job he did!


  1. It's at times like these that I'm glad I'm a painter and not a writer. It's less complicated and a mistake is a mistake. Pretty simple. Writing is so much harder I think.

    Congratulations on the next chapter coming out and the cover art is well done. You're illustrator is very talented.

  2. Personally, some of us are glad you're that teacher. Some of us need extra help :-)

  3. Well, we've talked about this before, and we both agree that making up your own grammar is hardly "artistic expression" and nothing like making up your own story. It's just laziness.

    A story with great writing that didn't grab you... I'm curious which one that is. It's not mine, I hope?

    Oh, and that cover is killer. I'm looking forward to part 5.

  4. I agree with Sarah's comment... some of us need you to be that teacher. And really, after we get out of school, we look back on that teacher and are glad he pushed us as hard as he did.

    And hey, I think I've only downloaded parts 1 and 2... where have I been?

    And yeah, Rusty did do an awesome job. But I expected nothing less.

  5. Anne: Painting is also easier in that, if you're doing it for yourself, which most people painting minis are, then you don't have to be all that good as long as you are fine with what you're doing. This guy I used to game with had this huge orc/goblin army that he'd painted, and it was pretty crappy work, but he was happy with it. And, honestly, when you field hundreds of goblins together, you can't really tell that the individual pieces don't look that good. However, when he had hero pieces he really wanted to stand out on the gaming table, he always hired me to paint them.

    Rusty's awesome!

    Sarah: Well, that's good to hear :)

    ABftS: Pretty much, unless you're Tolkien, you should leave the making up of grammar alone.

    M.J.: Um... I'm not sure where you've been? Under that rock again? Part 4 will be free along with part 5 on Friday, but you're out of look on part 3. :P

    Well, it's good to be needed, then :)

  6. I'm a grammar nazi, but I'm starting to worry that all my time online, as well as the decrease in editing in books, is going to sink into my brain. I write with a copy of the Bedford Handbook by me so I can check anything I'm questioning.

    Awesome cover!

  7. Shannon: I empathize with you. I used to keep my texts nearby, but, um, I haven't found them again since we moved.

  8. Friday! Don't let me forget to mention the next chapter Friday.
    You didn't slay my book and I know it's far from perfect. But I understand what you mean. Grammar and storytelling are two different things.

  9. I agree mostly with what you're saying though I still think there is an overwhelming amount of subjectivity to certain writing. It seems that in the past (when I was in college) I used to hear about highly acclaimed writers who I would read and didn't understand at all what the hoopla was about.

    But in all fairness I suppose I don't read all that much fiction comparatively speaking and I am probably not the best judge of what is going on in literature. My judgments are usually based on whether what I read kept me awake and focused, if I comprehended what I read, and if I had fun or felt a sense of enlightenment from having read something. And for me, if the grammar and technical aspects were something I noticed as being bad then it must have been really bad.

    Genre Favorites Blogfest
    Wrote By Rote

  10. I totally agree that grammar and spelling isn't subjective. The invention of grammar came along with the invention of the printing press in order to make the suddenly available literature accessible to everyone who could read the language. That's still valid today. If we don't stay in the guidelines, we're back to works only available to a select few.

    And I had one of those teachers. I was in the "everyone else" camp and he made sure I knew it.

  11. Hmmm. Parts of writing are subjective. For example, I HATE FAWKING DH LAWRENCE. But others don't seem to. But perhaps you mean that there is good vs bad writing and there is writing we enjoy vs writing we don't, and those aren't the same things?

    Part of what bugged me about being a professor is that I really had to become the grammar fascist and I am not a perfectionist and I wanted students to love writing first. Because there is so much more.

    But the ones who just don't give a shit at all? Oh it breaks your heart - that our culture is full of halfwits.

    It's a larger systemic problem.

    But back to teaching - I think writing and literature teachers shouldn't be forced to teach one when they're trained to and enjoy teaching the other.

    Your cover looks amazing. Looking forward to checking it out.

  12. That's one of the reasons why I don't review many books. I guess I just don't have as thick a skin as you. So instead of saying what I think, I don't say anything!

    But the fawning way that reviewers just run around saying, "This is amazing!" is very unhelpful . . .

  13. So thanks for keeping it honest! People need to hear it.

  14. Alex: They are indeed.

    Lee: Yeah, but that's a story (and how the story is told) issue, not an actual writing issue. You can be the greatest writer in the world, from a technical standpoint, and not be able to tell a story. You can also be the greatest story teller in the world and not be able to write it in any way that people can understand.

    Jeanne: Yeah, it's important to write in an agreed upon fashion, or close enough to it, so that people can understand you.

    Pish: A while back, I mentioned the way I look at books:
    1. This is bad, and I don't like it.
    2. This is bad, but I do like it.
    3. This is good, but I don't like it.
    4. This is good, and I do like it.

    Just because something is poorly written doesn't mean that people won't like it. That doesn't make the writing any better, though. And just because something is well written doesn't mean that people will like it (which goes back to what I was saying to Lee).

    And, yeah, I agree that it's difficult to get kids to enjoy reading and writing when you're also trying to teach them grammar. Teach them to read, then teach them to write. Work the grammar in on the sly while working on the writing.

    Bess: I think I don't have skin... it's something more like bark. heh

  15. OH my, I love the picture for the next Shadow Spinner book. It's amazing. And I think that most people are turned off by arrogance.

  16. Michael: It is amazing.
    And, um, if you're trying to imply that I'm arrogant, you should just say so. However, there is a difference between being arrogant and being correct. Not that the two can't go together, but I'm not being arrogant here. A good example of arrogance are the new leaked videos of Romney where he implies that he's better than everyone else by virtue of his money.

  17. Interesting post. I was talking about something similar with my hubby the other day. He was wondering how one agent could think a manuscript was great, and another agent would say, "Meh--this has tons of problems." I ended up comparing it to taste in music. I didn't used to like Metallica (and still wouldn't throw on a CD), but with the hubby's guidance, I've learned to appreciate certain parts of their musical artistry and abilities. Some people are lyric-people, and others go for the music~ my hubby will never appreciate a guitar-based song with amazing lyrics and three chords strummed over and over more than amazingly skilled music with so-so lyrics (I'm the opposite). BUT I think when either element is super lacking in a song--a tone-deaf singer or a musician who keeps hitting the wrong notes, the song suffers regardless of which piece isn't in place. Now I'm rambling. I was kind of agreeing with you in a way, trying to make an analogy about subjective/objective. Sorry if that didn't make sense :)

  18. Jess: No, that's a great analogy and one I can appreciate. I'm not the most musically inclined and am much more drawn in by what a song says rather than how it sounds. In fact, I may hear a song and like how it sounds until I figure out the words and, then, not like it anymore. Also, when my daughter practices her accordion, I can't always hear when she makes mistakes, but my wife can. I think it sounds fine while my wife is saying "you have the bass wrong there." But, see, the fact that I can't tell she's doing it wrong doesn't mean that she's not, which is a good example of why people get the subjectivity of "writing" confused with it's objectivity.

  19. Sorry you're getting such lash-back on the topic. Personally, if I were about to publish something, I think I'd beg you to read the first chapter for me first, and then I'd take that and go over the entire book before publishing it. It's not easy to find people who actually know the technical part of writing, and I certainly wouldn't want to be humiliated by publishing something where I'm constantly doing something dumb and incorrectly. Sheesh.

  20. Callie: A lot of people don't see it that way, especially when they've already released the work. They take any criticism of the work as a criticism of them as a person. Sometimes, it is, I suppose, if they've made the decision to release something they really knew wasn't ready.