Tuesday 18 August 2020

Paying for literary success

An enhanced version of this article is on my articles blog at Paying for literary success

Friday 14 August 2020

Writing and evaluation

Some people write for the sheer joy of it. Putting things into words helps other writers understand themselves better, maybe. Or they find it therapeutic. They don't need the ego-trip of publication. After all, look at Emily Dickinson - only 10 poems published in her lifetime.

Other people tot up their publication successes, happy to change what they write to fit the required themes and guidelines. To them, writing for yourself is like talking to yourself - a dead-end.

Such a variety of motive makes it difficult to offer suggestions at workshops. A comment that one type of writer may find useful (e.g. "your main character's too naive") might be heartbreaking for another.

Offering assessments is even more fraught. Evaluation can put a damper on creativity but it's what some people want. It's not uncommon for new members to come along with a piece that's been in their drawer for years wanting to know whether it's any good. Alas, however much the group prefaces their opinions with provisos, it's easy for the author to take opinions too seriously. Problems arise especially when the harsh realities of the publishing world begin to impinge on our little meetings. When considering the chances of getting accepted by Picador, say, our assessment-meters need drastic recalibration. A story that goes down well in the sheltered surroundings of a writers group may be rejected in seconds by a busy publisher’s intern.

People are often advised when commenting on a piece to say two positive things for each negative one. That approach has risks too - a newcomer with a poor piece might think that it’s mostly ok (apparently better than pieces read by experienced writers at the very same meeting, which can get criticised a lot!). Consequently they might waste much time and money. There are people out there all too ready to take hundreds of pounds from budding authors.

Also if a writer knows that their piece is bad but the group says it's good, the group may lose credibility in the eyes of the writer.

Adding numbers doesn't help. An Italian paper I read had these evaluation categories. Places like Goodreads and Amazon have a simpler system, though the details are worth checking - stars don't always mean the same thing.

*did not like ithate it
**it was okdon't like it
***liked itit's ok
****really liked itlike it
*****it was amazinglove it

The overall rating's not a simple average - age of vote etc matters

It's worth asking authors what they want out of the meeting, though replies needn't be completely believed. One option is to offer information rather than overt opinion - suggesting some relevant books to read, etc.

Thursday 6 August 2020

2 manifestos

Two books I recently bought in a charity shop feature manifestos.

"The vision of culture and other poems" by Mark Howard Davis (Minerva Press, 1998) begins with a 10-page preface. Here are some extracts -

  • In an age where individualism is haloed with spotlights, where relativism runs amok, there are many clever and sophisticated people but few with real, intense, aesthetic depth of wisdom
  • Everything is based on good contacts in the right places at the right time, rather than on serious evaluative criticism
  • when I read any of the current poetry on offer (whether written by supposed first league or lesser poets) I am aware of a lack of structure, lack of form, content and style
  • Once you slide into cultural relativism and it is deemed fine for everyone to pursue 'their own thing', all the critical apparatus and accumulated wisdom of tested craft and innovation become as nothing
  • Relativism has enslaved our culture and nowhere more so do we experience this bitter truth than in the meagre, half-cooked microwave poetry of postmodernism
  • today's postmodern conformism is due to the absense of any sort of intelligible poetics
  • The world of the true poet is, in the last result, a unique world of personal joy and suffering. The sheer intensity of such inwardness seals this world off from any mere facile cleverness
  • Poetry must regain its basis of meaningful patterning

"All hail the new puritans" by Nicholas Blincoe and Matt Thome (eds) (Fourth Estate, 2000) begins with a single page manifesto, explained in a 10-page introduction. Here are some extracts -

  • In the name of clarity, we recognise the importance of temporal linearity and eschew flashbacks, dual temporal narratives and foreshadowing ... Flashbacks are a cheap trick ... I have no problem with dual narratives generally, especially in longer fiction. But for this project we wanted to force the included writers into putting everything into a single narrative strand.
  • All our texts are dated and set in the present day. All products, places, artists and objects named are real ... Current historical fiction seems to be written with the sole purpose of denying life
  • We are moralists, so all texts feature a recognisable ethical reality

A write-up of the initiative and aftermath is on workshyfop