(More) Aphorisms that Get My Goat

I collect platitudes as they annoy me, and share my grumblings whenever I have enough to fill a post. Time for another edition.

Write What You Know
Ludicrous, absurd, limiting and insulting. Yes, I need to study any topic I choose to explore in prose, but I do not, cannot and should not have to know it before I start. I don’t need to be a martial artist to write effectively about martial arts. I can make up an alien character or culture without being an alien.

I will accept learn as you go, or research twice, consult three times, or collect independent assessments of  your results. But writing what you know in the accepted sense that authenticity arises only from direct experience? That blithely dismisses the value of imagination with an arrogance seen only from those who never use theirs. It implies writing outside one’s necessarily limited life experience should be avoided rather than embraced as a challenge. It’s an absurd directive that attempts to plug the very wellspring of creative work.

Imagination and research together make any topic fair game, and while experience is a valid a justification for creating, inner inspiration is at least equally powerful.

Quitting is wrong. Quitters never prosper. Only cowards quit. Etc.

My life motto is stolen without remorse from the movie GalaxyQuest. (Never give up. Never surrender!)  So how can I object to all these tidbits of advice about gumption?  Because phrasing is important, and these sayings entirely miss the point.(yes, even my motto…sort of. There’s a difference between mantra and advice.)

Stubborn refusal to turn aside from a goal is not a virtue next to godliness. Sometimes it isn’t even a virtue. Sometimes it’s more quitty than quitting.

Quitting a bad situation and starting over can be the first tactical choice in a wise and winning long-term strategy. Sometimes never giving up means never picking up the grenade in the first place. Sometimes the only way avoid surrender is to refuse the battle. Knowing when to decline, when to turn away to fight another day– in short, when to quit–is itself a critical success skill.

Quitting isn’t always wrong. Quitters do prosper. Quitting can be the right choice.  It definitely takes a lot of courage these days when you know the decision will be questioned and criticized at every turn. Grr. That’s the sound of my teeth grinding.

Rejection is a part of the process. Just expect it and develop a thick skin.

Bullshit. Every time I come across this turd, I get a weird feeling because it reminds me so much of testimony from abuse victims. The same insistence that everything is normal and fine, it’s the way things are, and if  I don’t like it, the problem is me. (implicit corollaries: if I follow all the directions, learn all the rules, and I am perfect, then everything will turn out okay in the end. If I get hurt, it’s my own fault..)

Uh. Nope. This isn’t to say rejection is abuse. I grant rejection is part of the process of creating — in the sense that perfection is an ideal not a reality, and there is no such thing as a universal appeal. The dismissal of pain and all its disapproval baggage are what irk me.

Criticism and revision, craft development and willingness to explore and grow — those elements are vital. Pain? Not so much. Pain may inevitable and inescapable, but “get used to it,” is anti-supportive  no matter how many layers of inspirational fluff surround the message.

There’s also a popular myth that defies all logic:  that if your work is “good enough,” and you keep submitting it hither and yon,  eventually it will find a huge audience. That you should keep trying to put your work in front of others no matter what. Here’s hard reality: the audience for my art might not be alive yet. It’s also possible that it’s brilliant, genius work only a few people would ever appreciate. It’s also quite possibly rough dross and not spun gold. “Just keep trying, rejection is meaningless” doesn’t address any of those possibilities.

Also, what does”good enough” mean?  Good enough to win a ribbon for country fair? Good enough to enter the World Cup? Good enough for Olympic gold? It’s a long spectrum.  There’s a huge world of potential audiences and acceptances.  The number of variables involved in readers disliking a given piece of writing are nigh-infinite. One blanket conclusion about rejection cannot begin to encompass the complexity of acceptance.

That isn’t even getting into the question of whether a thick skin is an asset in the first place. Rejection from an intended audience might arise from a mis-match between creator and consumer. It also might arise from flaws in the work. The patrons at a country-western bar might not appreciate Chicago blues. The song might also be off-key, off-tempo, or played over a lousy sound system. Consider all the possible combinations of those two factors, and rejection as a singular force splinters into a million separate but related issues.

I get so frustrated every time I start thinking about this one that I have to walk away. That’s enough grousing and whinging for one post anyway.

Thanks for sticking through it with me.

One response to “(More) Aphorisms that Get My Goat”

  1. typewriterhero Avatar

    Some great ideas here, love the de-bunk-um nature of your razor. Well it is true, write what you want to write, not what you know. Unfortunately too many people think they KNOW already, knowing is not the hard part. Expressing is, you hit the nail on the head. Keep writing! I know you will with the attitude I see here!