FULL BLEED: SAWING OFF THE INTERESTING BITS
So here's a podcast worth listening to, and I don't usually say that so very often.
It's between John Langan and Laird Barron (and the Lovecraft Ezine Podcast crew). And it covers a lot of ground: survival, kinship, owning influences, validation, the permeability of genre.
But one thing I wanted to touch on, particularly as a feral writer myself, was the whole idea of "the triumph of competence" in writing workshops et al. I'll let this dovetail into my whole writing advice vs success advice hobby horse that I occasionally trot out. You know, when people ask for (or more often give unsolicited) advice on writing, whether it's one trick Editors don't want you to know or how to game your Amazon keywords or SEO optimization for discoverability or anything else. What is being sold is a lottery ticket to success (and yes, Langan/Barron get into the lottery mentaility in this podcast).
What's more, the advice people are soliciting is advice for success, not advice on how to be a writer. I get it. I'd rather be successful too. I'm realistic enough to know that I have to temper even my conception of success to another sphere than the one I grew up with, much less the one I grew to middle age with.
One of the topics that came up along these lines was writer's workshops and what goes on in 'em. Namely the pursuit of getting into [Your favorite outlet here] writers go in and go through the wringer in an attempt to be reshaped into what they think those outlets want. It's not unlike when new contestants on THE VOICE go in and sometimes they're rough and sometimes they're idiosyncratic. They hit notes wrong but in an interesting way.
By the time they get to the finals, they're shaped the way they need to be shaped in order to win THE VOICE. Big runs, vocal gymnastics, air that stuff out, lots of headroom. But a lot of the time, whatever made them interesting has been left on the cutting room floor, along with their old clothes and makeup and old identity. Sure, you can recognize what's been left, but what's been lost when all that stuff got cut away?
But hey, at least they got to the semi-finals, right? That's success.
I know. I'll make an easy and facile comparison. It's what I'm good at. But oftentimes the good stuff is what gets left behind in the race to get to success, and frankly, let's use another term here. It's the race to become content. Professional without distinction. And let's be honest about content these days. We're soaking in it. Platforms literally shovelling it out as fast as they possibly can without any thought as to identity or scheduling or marketing or hey I resemble this remark. Of course I do. I'm a lowly self-publisher. But look at what Amazon does. They produce movies with their studios and maybe halfheartedly try to target ads to viewers, rapidly acquire and release series from overseas, back catalogs from studios. And while most of this new stuff is competent and even professional, it's often without an individual voice or distinction. It's focus-grouped and folks responded just well enough for it to get out there.
Same thing, folks. Same thing. The voice is the only thing you have, and if it's not in every word on every page, something's not right. And maybe it's a thing that not so many people want. Lemme tell ya, chasing what you think people want is a good way to make yourself insane. But maybe you'll do it better than I did and sell some books along the way.
Anyways, there's a lot of good stuff to listen to in that podcast. I recommend it if you're out there writing on the margins, or maybe even if you aren't.