Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So You Want to Write a Novel

The "xtranormal" do-it-yourself text-to-movie animations, with curious characters saying outrageous things in monotones, are going viral. The video that introduced me to the genre is "So You Want to Write a Novel," which is one of the best.

The video skewers a specific but common type of would-be writer: someone with no training, no patience, and no shame. It shows a reality that few of us encounter, but an acquaintance who is a professional writer and editor, told me,
Word for word I've been through it hundreds of times. From now on I'm going to email them the link to the video & skip the stupid conversation!
I serve periodically on creative writing senior thesis committees. They are not the people I see depicted here.  They are ambitious but extraordinarily hard-working and receptive to advice and criticism. They may not be ready to write the great American novel, but they also do not labor under the delusion that is what they are doing. They are convinced they have something to say, and our job is simply to advise them on how to say it better, which is to say: in such a way that someone else will be willing to listen in the first place.

That said, many of my colleagues appreciated this piece in a sad way. They saw reflected here not their best creative writing students, and rather, many a typical undeservedly overconfident undergraduate in other fields.  To be sure, every generation of teachers and artists seems to feel that standards have declined since it went through the education machine. That's a trope.  Still, one does worry. It used to be (again, maybe it was a fiction back then, too) that one could expect that students knew how to write, in the sense of knowing how to structure an argument and having a mastery of the basic mechanics and style of writing.

For me, the exchange that struck home was this one:
Author: “It’s going to need a lot of editing: I’m not the best speller.”
Editor: “My throat is starting to close up. The publishing industry really sort of expects you to have the whole spelling and grammar thing down.”
"really sort of expects you to have the whole spelling and grammar thing down": I think I'm going to use that line a lot in my assignments and paper comments.

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