PDA

View Full Version : On "writing", "writers" and "critics"



Uncle Duke
05-24-2010, 10:13 AM
Question arises in another thread about "writing" - not 'typing', not 'taking part in a multi-person discussion", but "writing" in the literary sense. A side question was raised about who is qualified to judge "writing" - not only what constitutes good writing, but what constitutes writing itself. (relevant snips from the other thread are in the next post)

So - what is "writing" and who gets to judge? Open for opinions!!!

My opinion to start it off? OK!

1: "Writing" (in the literary sense) is not the same as conversation. A writer is not in a position, nor should he/she want to be, to have a conversation with the reader - at least not until the work is complete. Interjections into a conversation no more make someone a writer than participating in a bar stool conversation makes someone an orator.

2: Judgements about writing are not the sole domain of writers, but are also the domain of readers. In a strict commercial sense, this is also the domain of publishers, but perhaps to a lessening degree given rise of the Internet and the replacement of the old "filter then publish" model with the "publish then filter" model.

Any other distinctions? What is "writing", what makes it good/mediocre/bad and who gets to judge? Are any of those questions/answers different for fiction vs non-fiction?

Open for opinions/corrections/qualifications, etc!

Uncle Duke
05-24-2010, 10:14 AM
From the previous thread:
Ish:

I write what I write. Don't like it, don't read it. A writer has to have a thick skin, because there will always be critics.Moi, on that other thread:

A "writer" is someone who writes with intention - with the aim of furthering understanding of a topic or telling a story which leads to an expanded viewpoint. A "writer" works within a specified framework, a formal framework.
Posting random un-connected daydreams in a place where they don't fit the existing background is not writing - it's graffiti. It is a destruction of something owned by someone and shared by other people, and then complaining that people don't understand your "art".and:

Ish:

... there will always be critics. Usually people who want to write, but can't, for whatever reason.pefjr:

You are right Ish. Anyone can be a critic, few can write.Moi, here:

Correct that anybody can be a critic. Incorrect if the implication is that the only people qualified to comment/criticize are "writers" - there are lots of people who are passionate about reading and they can be very good critics indeed.
Not acknowledging that would be the same as saying that the only person qualified to decide what constitutes a good cup of coffee is a barista.

huisjen
05-24-2010, 10:28 AM
If a writer has to have thick skin, Jack will never be a writer.

If we get a really big garbage can, rig it with a seat and a parachute, and chuck it with a trebuchet for some distance straight up, we can do a better job of making simulated back yard astronauts.

Dan

Uncle Duke
05-24-2010, 10:31 AM
I kinda' feel left out because you didn't quote me for comparing Jack being a writer to me being an astronautHey - it's your thread. You can divert it all you want! :D
This one's just to explore issues which were raised in the wrong place (unless, of course, we have some rule that as long as you are topless when you type, you can post anything there).
You're not topless, are you? Actually - wait - please don't say....:D

huisjen
05-24-2010, 10:43 AM
Hey - it's your thread. You can divert it all you want! :D
This one's just to explore issues which were raised in the wrong place (unless, of course, we have some rule that as long as you are topless when you type, you can post anything there).
You're not topless, are you? Actually - wait - please don't say....:D

It's okay. He borrowed nipple pasties from Lefty.

Dan

Uncle Duke
05-24-2010, 10:46 AM
A person does not become a writer by announcing to the world, "I am a writer!" They do it by writing.
Writers also practice - they do focused exercises to train themselves to communicate a known and relevant idea more effectively and gracefully.
At least as importantly, writers self-criticize. They look for, and find, things in their own writing which don't work, which can be better, and they generally don't put their writings in public until they are convinced that they can't correct anything else.
I'd suggest that you can't be a "writer" until you are doing both of those things. (Exceptions or at least delays in the process, in the second case, for journalists or other people who are deadline constrained)

Uncle Duke
05-24-2010, 10:47 AM
He borrowed nipple pastries from Lefty.
Glad to know he's making good use of his time at the Pub! :D

huisjen
05-24-2010, 10:48 AM
My favorite Steven King book is "On Writing". Some very good advice in there.

Dan

huisjen
05-24-2010, 10:52 AM
http://ericademane.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/nipple.jpg?w=500&h=375

Dan

Uncle Duke
05-24-2010, 10:54 AM
My favorite Steven King book is "On Writing". Some very good advice in there.
I'd have to agree - great book on the subject. I liked his repeated points that in order to do it well, you have to understand what "well" means and then purposefully pursue that.

I'd add a recommendation, especially for beginning writers, Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down The Bones". Non-academic but focused.

SMARTINSEN
05-24-2010, 10:55 AM
What goes on here is not writing. I see it more as discussion. Some of it is serious and worthwhile, some is funny, some is angry, and some is simply no more than idle chatter. It is fleeting, just as is conversation.


Ish--if you are a writer, why don't you show us some of your stuff. Poetry, perhaps, or a short story?

John Smith
05-24-2010, 10:57 AM
Writing is simply putting thoughts on paper. There are many ways to say the same thing, and what works for writing instructions may not work so well in writing a story.

The ability to write in a way that the reader enjoys is having a talent.

The ability to write instructions/directions that can be followed is a different talent.

Much as different musicians will play the same song differently, some to the liking of the listener and some not so much to the listener's liking, different people can write about the same event, or tell the same story, and some will captivate you, while others bore your to death.

Kaa
05-24-2010, 11:07 AM
... in order to do it well, you have to understand what "well" means and then purposefully pursue that.

That, actually, is excellent general-purpose advice, not limited to writing.

A lot of people fail at the first step :-)

Kaa

Uncle Duke
05-24-2010, 11:15 AM
Writing is simply putting thoughts on paper.
That's true in it's broadest sense. And in that sense, anyone who can use pen, pencil, keyboard, crayon, etc. is "writing".
But I think that it is a slightly different thing to "be" a writer - to define oneself as a "writer" rather than as someone who knows how to perform the mechanical functions known as writing.

ishmael
05-24-2010, 11:32 AM
Probably the best thing, just in my estimation, that I've writen. It has the blessing of being short. I've spouted it before. People have misinterpreted it. It was written for a lover.

Virgin

"Oh young rose
Softness tramelled in the bud.

How wake your sweetness now?
Save by a dream
Wrested from the blood.

Not my usual style. I tend to write long-winded ballads. But I like that one. It was written for a long-time friend and lover who was having an affair at the time. A lament of love lost. A sort of haiku to my ear.

I've posted others that I like, too. Another lament.

------------------------------------------------

Tristan and Isolde Don't live Here Anymore.

A moment ago, swimming the sweet darkness
I imagined myself a prince, in exile,
And you my fair Isolde.
I have touched no one, heart to heart
Since I last touched you.

These days a dragon guards my soul,
Wind's cat like around my feet,
And it my inner chambers, I am alone.

I wonder, less and less, what becomes of you.
I know the King's rich robes, their oppulence
Their seductive gold.

In bright fire memory, I see, strange yet familiar
How they brought you on your knees, to his throne.

I yearn, less and less, for our nights beneath a howling wind.
Art of full moon splashing wet color across an aching bed.

Fire, fire enough to kindle a star, had we but gently lain our
Sweet rush on firm earth, and breathed bellows deep the
Other's rich air.

-------------------------------------------------------------

You asked for it. That is a couple of my better attempts. Will they end up in a collection, people awed over them. Probably not, though they are already in minor collections.

And yeah, I had it bad for the woman in the second poem. She ran off and married a banker. Can't blame her.

Ian McColgin
05-24-2010, 11:33 AM
The premiss of this thread seems to me a bit confusing because it combines the issues of “writing” as:

- Some form of professional communication, whether creative as a novel or poem or whatever, or discursive as an historical explanation, scientific exposition, philosophical musing, or whatever; and

- Some moderately formal (because written) effort to communicate something from the writer to the reader; and

- The interaction that spans space and time in ways that conversation in a cafe cannot both because it’s written, not spoken, and because it can be returned to in ways the first drink cannot. We see it in the letters of Abelard and Heloise and the quarrels of Augustine and Pelagius and rival pamphleteering such as like where we’ve only kept one side in the Federalist Papers and dueling magazine columns or internet forums and blogs.

For this Forum, I want to attend to the latter with the earlier two being simply more special and formal examples of what could happen here.

It cannot hurt to have something in mind and to have the linguistic tools to express it. Some puzzling non sequiturs do not rise to communication both because the sentence manages to not even mean nothing, and perhaps because there was nothing in mind in the first place. For example: “Usually people who want to write, but can't, for whatever reason.’ [#52 Your Topless Waitress Girlfriend . . .]

Which rewrite could impose sense on these turgid feelings? Is it:

“Usually I want to write, but can’t and that’s why I fill the space with confusion instead.” ? Or perhaps

“For whatever reason most people cannot write, myself among them.” ?

Or something else as yet unimagined.

I certainly enjoy the baroquely carved and purple hued turn of phrase now and again, but in general simple declarative sentences purged of more than one adjective per noun and one adverb per verb and no more than two subordinate conjunctions with a run through the spell check will do quite well. There is one correspondent here whose amazing dialect, at first turgid but on examination quite parti-colored, I find worth reading sometimes, despite the great effort. Those of fractured prose not aspiring to a cri d’couer I usually scan right past.

But there are other sins, not so much against writing but more against dialogue, that happen.

Arguments - both ab and ad - annoy: ab incunabulis, absit invidia, ad hominem, ad nausium, ad astra per aspera, ad extremum, ad patres, ad unguem, ad vivum . . . .

Defense by deflection, so lovely in Kung Fu, so infests political threads that nothing gets said.

But in the end, it comes down to a personal decision.

Do you have anything to say?

Really?

Does that tangle of words assist anyone in finding out?

Mrleft8
05-24-2010, 11:43 AM
I'm waiting for ms. Chicoine to chime in here..... Being one of the real life "writers" on the forum....

Uncle Duke
05-24-2010, 11:52 AM
Originally Posted by Uncle Duke http://forum.woodenboat.com/images/buttons/viewpost.gif (http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread.php?p=2604426#post2604426)
... in order to do it well, you have to understand what "well" means and then purposefully pursue that.
Kaa: That, actually, is excellent general-purpose advice, not limited to writing.
A lot of people fail at the first step :-)
Kaa
Here in the software design/development world there is a third step: how do you know when you are done?

Ethan
05-24-2010, 11:53 AM
If Ish wants to be a writer, he's a writer.
If you dislike his product, you dislike it.

Nothing to see here.

Self-appointed sobriquet police are more irritating than nebulous bards.

Bruce Taylor
05-24-2010, 12:03 PM
I'd stopped being a writer for a few years, but now I'm on deadline again. After August, I'll revert to my natural form.


Self-appointed sobriquet police are more irritating than nebulous bards.

Gotta agree with that.

Kaa
05-24-2010, 12:07 PM
If Ish wants to be a writer, he's a writer.

Not exactly.

If Ish wants to call himself a writer, he can call himself a writer.

If Ish wants other people to recognize him as a writer, he has to convince those other people that he is one.

Kaa

Milo Christensen
05-24-2010, 12:31 PM
Not exactly.

If Ish wants to call himself a writer, he can call himself a writer.

If Ish wants other people to recognize him as a writer, he has to convince those other people that he is one.

Kaa

And perhaps a thread that was about a jealous lover burning down a topless coffee shop posted to a wooden boat forum isn't quite the appropriate place to look for recognition.

Ish wants to write, wants public recognition, he maybe should start a thread into which he posts all his "whatever" and the forumites who care can read and comment.

jbchicoine
05-24-2010, 12:54 PM
I'm waiting for ms. Chicoine to chime in here..... Being one of the real life "writers" on the forum....
That's nice, Lefty, but I feel highly unqualified to weigh in. I'm just going to read all this and continue to figure it out in silence...

Michael D. Storey
05-24-2010, 01:00 PM
You guys have a lot of time to spend, I reckon.
It is true that if I go into a glass shop and say, gimme a piece of 1/4", 46 X 8, and the counter guy sez, 'here, write it down!', I would be writing. And in the sense of one putting words together in a visible form for others to read, I am a writer.

So if I change my name to Homer HemingwayKingFitzgerald, and come up with stone tablets, I am a writer, as in, 'I am a writer...'

So what is the deal? You guys don't like each other's thoughts, so you argue about who is a writer.....

I personally have put enough words onto paper so that they were published as a technical manual. I have put enough words together so a company that produces books for children bought those words and put them into a book. Am I a writer? No. I'm a wiseass.

Uncle Duke
05-24-2010, 01:10 PM
I personally have put enough words onto paper so that they were published as a technical manual. I have put enough words together so a company that produces books for children bought those words and put them into a book. Am I a writer? No. I'm a wiseass. I have no intention to dispute your self-assessment ( :D ), but in the cases you mention publishers independently recognized you as a writer. That has historically been one clear measure.

pefjr
05-24-2010, 01:23 PM
You guys have a lot of time to spend, I reckon.
It is true that if I go into a glass shop and say, gimme a piece of 1/4", 46 X 8, and the counter guy sez, 'here, write it down!', I would be writing. And in the sense of one putting words together in a visible form for others to read, I am a writer.

So if I change my name to Homer HemingwayKingFitzgerald, and come up with stone tablets, I am a writer, as in, 'I am a writer...'

So what is the deal? You guys don't like each other's thoughts, so you argue about who is a writer.....

I personally have put enough words onto paper so that they were published as a technical manual. I have put enough words together so a company that produces books for children bought those words and put them into a book. Am I a writer? No. I'm a wiseass.
You were not a writer until the last two sentences, when you became a writer of forum humor. I chuckled and that made you an appreciated writer. That is what Ish is. I have not read any of his posts where he is trying impress anyone. But his posts are interesting reading because they have that element of humor. The critics here have some ulcers to feed so I'll pause now and let them ease their pains.

johnw
05-24-2010, 01:53 PM
First of all, I think a forum thread is a conversation. And if Jack wants to call himself a writer, fine by me. I don't think he's a good one, but there are a lot of bad writers out there. Being a bad writer makes it unlikely he'll support himself writing, but then being a good writer doesn't usually produce that result either.

I used to write for a living, about 25,000 words a month, roughly equivalent to a novel every three months. I didn't call myself a writer, I called myself a reporter. It's a lot easier than writing fiction, because you can ask people what happened next instead of having to invent it, and peoples' actions don't have to make sense. You want thick skins? Newspaper editors can be brutal, and people you write about often don't want you to write about what they've done. I've been threatened with lawsuits, professional ruin and physical violence for writing accurate stories. If you can't take people suggesting you should know what you're talking about before you start running off at the keyboard, you'll probably never learn to be a good writer.

Forum posts are even more perishable than newspaper stories, so no one is required to write deathless prose. Viewed as a conversation, however, it's rude to butt in with some narcissistic ramblings that are off-topic and uninformed, just as it would be if you were sitting around a table enjoying a cop of coffee and some pleasant conversation.

Flying Orca
05-24-2010, 01:55 PM
A close friend of mine is an award-winning, critically-acclaimed writer of both literary works (under his own name) and genre fiction (under a fairly transparent pseudonym, adopted at the insistence of his literary publisher, who didn't want to be associated with - and I quote - "downmarket genre fiction"). I have three other friends who also write fiction professionally.

Most of these guys know each other, and because the first I mention was first to be published, I have sat in when he and one or more of the others discussed writing. One of the lasting lessons was that writers need to write the way I need to play music. I'm not driven to learn the craft and excel, hence I'm not a writer... although I'm good with language and when I have to write, do so reasonably well.

I believe readers are perfectly qualified to judge writing, but other writers may be better equipped to appreciate technical nuances. Being an inveterate reader, I think my ability to appreciate good writing has improved over the years - I'm now more attuned to subtext, story arc (especially in multi-volume epics), the various effects of person and tense, etc. - but while my writer friends and I often like the same writers, I have this feeling that they sometimes get more out of them than I do. And that's only fair - I often appreciate musical subtleties of which they remain blissfully unaware when we listen to the same piece.

Uncle Duke
05-24-2010, 02:01 PM
Forum posts are even more perishable than newspaper stories, so no one is required to write deathless prose. Viewed as a conversation, however....
And that' s a good distinction, I think. Conversations are, by definition, dialogues. Writing, in the literary (or journalistic) sense is a monologue (even if that writing contains 'dialogues').

Michael D. Storey
05-24-2010, 02:02 PM
One of the lasting lessons was that writers need to write the way I need to play music. I'm not driven to learn the craft and excel, hence I'm not a writer... although I'm good with language and when I have to write, do so reasonably well.



I happen to think that that is what makes writing an art form.
I will remember always, sitting in a laundromat in South Carolina while everything that I had except for my foul weather gear was grinding itself through the dryer, and there was a woman, with a Salem in one hand and in the other a Bic pen plodding across a yellow pad.
She told me that she had a washer/dryer at home, but she told her husband that it 'was broke', so she could get away once a week for a few hours to be alone and write.
She was driven. A word jones, she had, if there was one ever.
She sed she had thought about it but she couldn't figure out why she wrote.
I went down the street to the drug store and bought her a bunch o' razor points.
'Here girl, these'll go faster...' 'Oh, no thanx, very kindly, I like it slow.'
And here I was with only yellow rubber pants on.

jbchicoine
05-24-2010, 02:09 PM
I happen to think that that is what makes writing an art form.
I will remember always, sitting in a laundromat in South Carolina while everything that I had except for my foul weather gear was grinding itself through the dryer, and there was a woman, with a Salem in one hand and in the other a Bic pen plodding across a yellow pad.
She told me that she had a washer/dryer at home, but she told her husband that it 'was broke', so she could get away once a week for a few hours to be alone and write.
She was driven. A word jones, she had, if there was one ever.
She sed she had thought about it but she couldn't figure out why she wrote.
I went down the street to the drug store and bought her a bunch o' razor points.
'Here girl, these'll go faster...' 'Oh, no thanx, very kindly, I like it slow.'
And here I was with only yellow rubber pants on.
I like that story :)

Michael D. Storey
05-24-2010, 02:13 PM
I like that story :)

And it's just that. It just fell out of my head.

Thank you for your kind words.

huisjen
05-24-2010, 02:31 PM
I remember at the end of my Junior year in College, a friend whizzed up to me on a moped and announced that he'd figured out what he was going to do for a summer job. He was going to write a Harlequin Romance Novel. He said it was a straight forward process. He'd looked into it. You read a couple of them, get the general format outline from the publisher, and off you go. He expected to make about $3000 for it. Dunno what happened after that. I forgot to ask.

Dan

Ian McColgin
05-24-2010, 02:37 PM
Lots of grind'em-out writing jobs. In the '60's some college friends and I wrote a little porn. It's harder than you'd think. Well, the problem was that It wasn't hard at all and the writing's more difficult than you'd think.

Michael D. Storey
05-24-2010, 02:43 PM
I remember at the end of my Junior year in College, a friend whizzed up to me on a moped and announced that he'd figured out what he was going to do for a summer job. He was going to write a Harlequin Romance Novel. He said it was a straight forward process. He'd looked into it. You read a couple of them, get the general format outline from the publisher, and off you go. He expected to make about $3000 for it. Dunno what happened after that. I forgot to ask.

Dan
I did that for a while in my undergraduate days. Wrote 'smut.' It was simple. One Rule: High Class tea-oh-eye-tea. Low class: Tea-double-ewe-aye-tea
I ask in advance your indulgences for my familiar-ness.

John of Phoenix
05-24-2010, 02:52 PM
Michael D. Storey:
Am I a writer? No. I'm a wiseass.
Fu<# an A, Bubba, well told. :D

pefjr
05-24-2010, 03:17 PM
Lots of grind'em-out writing jobs. In the '60's some college friends and I wrote a little porn. It's harder than you'd think. Well, the problem was that It wasn't hard at all and the writing's more difficult than you'd think.soft porn?

Ethan
05-24-2010, 04:25 PM
Oh, geesh, what a bunch of blather!!!....(except for the rubber suit story - that was very amusing).

Hypocrisy, thy name is Bilge.

Liberal minded egalitarians, my ass. Just cause some don't like Jack, it's now all about "recognition" and "I know a real writer", "he can't be what he wants because I feel inadequate and have to crap all over someone else to feel better about myself", etc., etc.

Several on this thread are showing themselves to be pompous gits. Consider yourselves recognized, with all the privileges bestowed thereof.

Michael D. Storey
05-24-2010, 04:33 PM
There are only two persons suited to use the word 'git', and one of 'em is dead. The dead one is Richard Burton, and the other is Peter O'Toole.

Ethan
05-24-2010, 05:10 PM
But it's so apropos

Paul Pless
05-24-2010, 05:12 PM
But it's so aproposbut not 'apropos out'

John Smith
05-25-2010, 05:39 AM
That's true in it's broadest sense. And in that sense, anyone who can use pen, pencil, keyboard, crayon, etc. is "writing".
But I think that it is a slightly different thing to "be" a writer - to define oneself as a "writer" rather than as someone who knows how to perform the mechanical functions known as writing.
Didn't the rest of my post address that?

Michael D. Storey
05-25-2010, 05:47 AM
It is an unusual art form, writing. A xerographic copy of a manuscript can impart much more of what the writer is all about than can a copy, of, say, a painting can of an artist.

People collect books. Very few collect manuscripts.

A manuscript often does nowadaze exist only in an electronic form, anyway.

I have a collection of builder's prints of yachts. Some are laden with notes and sketches, coffee stains, paint; all this trash tells something and makes them much more valuable than a copy of the drawings, all clean and neat.

The O'Brian series ended with a facsimile of his last manuscript, complete with changes and sketches, even, of where the boys sat at mess. Valuable in its ability to impart some of the thought process, the art of writing.

Flying Orca
05-25-2010, 07:24 AM
Just cause some don't like Jack, it's now all about "recognition" and "I know a real writer", "he can't be what he wants because I feel inadequate and have to crap all over someone else to feel better about myself", etc., etc.

Excuse me? I said nothing about Jack. If I were to say anything about Jack as a writer, it would be this: Jack gives the appearance of being driven to write, which I am given to understand is a big part of what makes one a writer. I have no strong opinions either way on his technical skills, and I don't think it would be appropriate to judge his skills by what he posts in the Bilge unless he asks for feedback on a specific piece of writing.

I don't know how serious Jack is about learning the craft, but there are much better places than the Bilge to do so even if one confines oneself to the 'net (the International Online Writers' Association comes to mind). Regardless, I consider him to be an aspiring writer at the very least.

Not sure if you intended to catch me with your rather broad brush, but my original post had nothing to do with crapping all over anyone. You on the other hand have done a rather good job of it.

leikec
05-25-2010, 10:39 AM
I've finished my second novel and I've been submitting query letters to agents. My first book was a "drawer novel". I've had essays published in a regional travel magazine.

I still don't consider myself a writer. The damn query letter is more difficult than writing a book.

Jeff C

Ed Harrow
05-25-2010, 12:08 PM
... The damn query letter is more difficult than writing a book.

Jeff C

Yup.

(I was just going to ;) , but seems that violates the rules ;) )