This is a quick and messy post I wanted to throw out before getting back to work on my books today. It pertains to PulpRev as a community of growing writers, artists, and authors and is meant for those involved in it.
Something I enjoy about PulpRev is the clash of ideas that occurs between members because it provokes thought about various tangential issues to do with writing in the Current Year. There is usually some kind of discussion being volleyed between those involved on Twitter, Discord, blogs, etc.
In the past few months, I have observed disagreements and friction between personalities. Many people express hunger to continue the momentum via study, development, and improvement in the skills where their interests land (others are focused on the hustle).
Improving writing can be a mess when a fledgling writer treads out to find techniques, validation, and objectivity. I’ve been actively discerning between writing advice for the past eight years now. In that time, I’ve gone through a lot of phases but there are some constants in regards to the specific value of any given advice.
Here are some ways that I quickly discern whether advice is worthwhile:
- The first is to look at the background of who is giving advice and whether they are parroting advice from someone else. Do they understand the underlying context of the advice they are repeating? It is more valuable to find the actual source in these cases as that explanation will be more fitting and often, the original source has more depth to whatever discussion the advice arose from. There’s also that thing about prioritizing advice from people who have accomplished what you seek to accomplish.
- The second is to consider why they are giving advice. Are they trying to sell something? Have they created an entire business around writing advice and consultations? This isn’t a good sign, in my experience. YMMV.
- The third is to figure out if the person has any skin in the game. If so, what kind of skin and in what game? My favorite advice comes from older-aged creators who are prolific and gave advice as an aside before they got back to work. I say, creators because some of the best advice can come from people in entirely different fields than writing.
Illimitable Men has a harsh overview in regard to advice and it definitely applies to the world of writing advice:
Losers don’t have any form of narcissistic supply other than “giving advice”, their “advice” is terrible, ignore all of it. The people whose advice you really want aren’t lining up to give it to you, those who are lining up are losers nine out of ten times.
Losers have no achievements to get high off because they haven’t achieved anything, so their way of feeling big is misinforming you with nonsense they pulled out of their ass. They achieve this by telling you how to live your life when they’re not even on top of their own.
In my experience, this tends to be the case 95% of the time. I’m guilty of this on my blog in the past, especially before I knocked my head about and got so sick of it that I stopped theorizing and started applying. Most of my advice is eventually watered down as I feel compelled to always include YMMV or variations of subjectivity to it (I feel that impulse for this entire article right now).
Learning through practical experience is a 1000x worth more than theoretical strategizing about potential outcomes.
You don’t need anyone to give you any advice is the reality.
All you need is… to do what you have to do.
But this might be embarrassing! It might make you uncomfortable! It might tarnish your pride. You might even make obvious mistakes!
Yet this is preferable than trying to take inventory of everything to avoid because while you’re drawing diagrams and scribbling notes and making lists, feeling so assured you’re working hard, nothing is happening. Nothing is being created and nothing is any closer to being in a tangible state that can be shared with other human beings in our shared reality.
This doesn’t mean write whatever and thoughtlessly throw it out into the public sphere either (I mean, unless you want to do that, I’m not going to stop you or anything. I’m sure you might learn something from it). There is, of course, balance to be found in regards to development and presentation. I’m still learning that balance myself.
But I can guarantee there is no amount of planning or revising or reflection that will prepare you for the reality of actually going through with it.
This shift is easily illustrated in the difference between Paper Trading and Live Trading on the stock market. Reality changes around you when you go from the hypothetical paper stocks to “this is really happening with my actual MONEY“. Your world will shudder, entire strategies will shift, actual relevant data will pour in, and your mentality will reform by consequence.
Luckily, writing and publishing isn’t as stressful as day trading! :P
While I’ll let YMMV on Cheah’s recent advice (it’s not bad, but it reminded me of another list of advice I read via an email newsletter that got sent out 12 hours before Ben posted his… Pure coincidence and likely caused by the collective unconscious stream or something. That list also started with “Study the Greats/Old Masters” as the first point and had five points in all), I wanted to mention some thoughts about the last point.
5. Learn From Each Other. This is probably the hardest to do, but we must keep each other honest. This means honest critiques and frank discussions of stories, especially the ones we’ve written. If we don’t produce quality works we are simply shouting into the wind. To succeed, PulpRev must be a mark of quality, a school of thought that champions fine storytelling, and to get there we have to be able to give and take criticism, as friends and as pros.
Honesty in the postmodern world that we exist in has very different meanings depending on the person. What is frank and honest to one person can be leagues away from what another person considers frank and honest. It is important to not get lost in something being right (or “not being wrong”) simply because it is a person’s “honest opinion”.
An honest critique can still be wrong even if it is honest and a frank discussion can lead off the rails regardless. Honesty and being frank does not guarantee improvement, it just seems better at it than nothing at all. More importantly, this mentality also holds the danger of writers “improving” to fit in accordance with a particular someone else’s standards rather than by natural evolution of individual style and nose-to-the-grindstone solitary hard work.
“School of thought” says it right in the term: what is being suggested in the explanation is an Academia-like approach… one might say, a literary theory.
Quality varies a great deal. Because if we’re frank and honest, then we have to be transparent about what quality actually means and WHY we want it. As a school of thought, in order to create grounds for a standard of quality, then there have to be agreements found between what makes for fine storytelling… a rubric, either unspoken or otherwise, has to form.
Either quality is subjective depending on an individual’s assessment OR an objective rubric is created through a group effort to find a premise for a qualitative standard (to mimic quantitative proof to defend against potential future critics).
If the former, then there will be room to breathe but also room to escape. Writers will be able to shrug off those who negatively criticize and gravitate to those who praise them. And sometimes this is necessary in order to keep the flame alive (point #4) without dampening it through continual criticism that weighs the creative spirit down when it becomes overwhelming and the distance from where one is, and where one should be, seems intimidatingly infinite.
If the latter, then a weak dogma will form in the natural conclusion. A scholarly framework in the same vein of literary theories is the bottom of this slippery slope. Only a few active people will decide the foundation… or perhaps it shall be a democratic rule that decides the contents of such a rubric as to compare admittedly distinct visions and styles (point #3).
And while we are critiquing and discussing like pedantic PulpRev-literary-journalists, what is getting done? What is being finished?
The Greats of the Pulp Era wrote and submitted, got rejected, wrote more and submitted until they were accepted. This is how they learned to improve in the beginning stages. If we wanted to mimic the process of the Greats, then we should not cater to the modern writer’s luxury of isolated critique spaces and constant theoretical musing but build more open spaces to reject writers again and again and again until they either improve or surrender with a broken heart.
There are more than a few issues with an insular-leaning community deciding that everyone has to read critically and have something to say for the sake of “improvement”. I believe that phrase is… everyone’s a critic and it quickly becomes tedious rather than valuable.
This is probably all the more complicated given the nature of self-publishing and the ability to not go through this process at all. And interesting enough, one can still succeed through this route. Readers don’t care about the same things that writers do. You can succeed without stunning high-quality prose and fail despite it.
So what does PulpRev truly want?
Do we want to be validated as appearing to have top-notch quality and superstar skills that rival the Old (Pulp) Masters?
Or do we want to recreate the atmospheric marketable/literary Darwinism that defined these Greats as who we know them to be now?
Or do we want to be a collection of individuals striking out to share creations however we see fit and the only litmus is the readers enjoying them?
Does it matter more if our distinctive readers are loving a story regardless of any mistakes OR is it more important that we are accepted by our current fellow writers as being worthwhile literary technicians?
…or even just that we appease the standards of a momentary critic?
It’s probably a weird blend of those things for most depending on individualistic perspective. Cheah wasn’t wrong when he said that it is a “dirty and difficult business” but perhaps we don’t have to roll in the mud to build Rome?
Or maybe we do! Either way, as long as it is vibrant and thought-provoking, I’ll still be around… lurking and writing and creating. ;)