Monday, September 5, 2011

Am I Just Not Cool Enough?

Here's a secret: I'm a weirdo.

Rarely do I ever find myself in the position of the conservative or traditional voice on things. It doesn't matter what, I'm usually progressive and pushing envelopes (not literally, though, part of my progressiveness is a refusal to use the postal service!). Why do I always seem on the fringe? Because I think I'm cool? Because I like it there? Because I hope if I try hard enough to be really, really hip, then the power of positive, wishful thinking in accordance with the science of The Secret then I will attract and create hip with my very thoughts and efforts of hipness?

Hell no on all accounts.

I'm cool and hip only when it's cool to not give a shit and not constantly try to prove how cool and hip one is. Basically, Grunge. Man, for like a year before the wannabes trying to be cool took it over, I was awesome. My hand-me-down clothes, previously hillbilly flannels and shoddy general appearance suddenly put me at the forefront of cool! And I didn't care, which was even cooler!!!

This wasn't so much the case in the 80's (though, in my defense, I was thankfully barely alive back then). No so much in whatever abomination came after the Grunge movement, when I was told, once, that the weird little goth boy clique thought I was awesome, which of course mortified me, because the second I was labeled as goth (or something like it) that meant people thought I was trying to be something, when really what I was trying to be was: leave me the fuck alone.

Now, though, as an abjectly failed writer fighting to figure out how to work my way up to at least just being a failed writer (baby steps!), I find myself wondering if I'm just not cool enough for this generation. Everywhere I look I see increasingly numbers of stories that are full of self-centered, look-at-me gimmicks and methods. Stories that seem more interested in soliciting compliments on how edgy, how innovative, how different all the things that, in reading the story, you have to acknowledge the writer is doing.

Yes, writers write stories. It's a usually unfortunate fact. Thankfully for me, I was blessed with the [I believe true] advice that nobody gives a shit about the writer, so the sooner I get over myself, the better. The better what, though? Well, the better story, of course. Sure, the instant-gratification-nation we live in probably what pushes most young writers into doing what will get them attention NOW; it's just now that seems to be increasingly rewarded. If they try really hard to make something edgy, oddly formatted and full of formatting gimmicks, then, BOOM, people will notice you, the writer, screw the story, YOU wrote it, afterall! Bask! You're almost a star!

I guess I've also been blessed with the [I believe true] advice that writing isn't a race. I especially don't believe it should be a race to gain attention, especially of the look-at-me, I'm a writer, variety.

Ah, but see, that's perhaps the problem. In an age where every writer ever has a blog and publishing credits and a Facebook and oh, look, I've done INTERVIEWS (on the blogs of other writers, since we all have blogs and nothing better to do), and oh, look, I've done EDITING (at one of the slew of journals only known by the people writing and editing for those journals, as they basically create their own self-validating sub-culture of on another, being validated because they're being read and published by each other). Oh, look! Look at me! I'm a writer! A writer! (I think this is where you're supposed to, like, swoon or something).

We live in an age where everyone at every turn is expected to present not themselves, but an idealized image of themselves (and writers are people too, sometimes). Facebook, social lives, reality tv, at work. Just about everywhere these days we're told to be yourself, as long as it's the positive, expected version of yourself others will like! Hrm, wait, I'm not convinced you're cool or happy enough, so try to put on a a better show of self. Yes, even if it's fake and contrived and you're obviously trying too hard to convince us you're you, because just being yourself is only convincing if being yourself is trying really hard to be yourself! Wait, so really, don't be yourself. CREATE an image of self that demands notice, and people will notice you! You'll be a star! You're an artist, create, create, create... yourself and attention, and then, according to the science of The Secret, the you you're bullshitting everyone and faking will be the REAL you, then you can just be yourself (and judge others for trying, or for not being self enough as themselves).

But, what about the writing? I know, we keep forgetting about the actual writing in this post!

What I see in increasing numbers of writers who don't really care about what they can do for their writing, but what their writing can do for them. Look at us. We're writers! We're sitting in the coffee shop with our hipster glasses and a mug of something we're too cool to admit tastes like shit without a pound of sugar and milk and whipped cream and cinnamon or nutmeg or who the hell cares what I'm shaking into my glass, it's sure to make it taste better... because we're WRITERS! I'm a writer, look, I have a website! I'm a writer, look, I have a blog! I'm a writer, look, my story counts down backwards and is told in reverse, or is in the format of commentating a boxing match, or is just a description of a door! Yes, look at my writing, then look at me, quickly, because I'm a writer! That story I wrote? That story didn't do shit! I'M THE WRITER!!!

You know what? I just want good stories. I don't want stories to seem like a movie trailer introducing a writer. I don't want stories so full of formatting tricks and gimmicks it almost begs contact with the writer just to ask what they were thinking (which they hear: 'oh, embodiment of genius, how did you come up with this?' instead of what I mean in 'what the fuck were you thinking?!'). I don't personally want anyone to have to be so annoyed or confused by my formatting or the gimmick of a story they ask me "what the fuck is this?" I want them to be so moved and enthralled by my story--my STORY, not the layers of lipstick, gimmick, perfume, hipster glasses and effort to be super cool that I've smothered my story with, but my STORY--so moved that they ask "who the fuck are you?"

That's how it should be: Who the fuck are you? Oh, you're the writer! Sorry, didn't see you there! Not: What the fuck is this? Oh, it's a story! I should have guessed you actually had a story somewhere, since you're constantly bragging and bringing attention to the fact you're a writer... even in that thing I didn't even recognize as a story, so much as a personal advertisement for a writer of obviously infinite genius.

And so, I find myself feeling conservative and traditional. It's new, and I sort of like it, because the more I've learned about the writer industry (different from the writing industry!), the more I've realized the more marginalize and irrelevant I feel, the more I can be assured I'm doing something right.

Not trying to write, just writing. Not trying to be edgy, or innovative or trying to be anything, just writing stories. Not trying to be hip... okay, well maybe not just being hip. Not until not giving a shit about how cool I am becomes cool again, which the way our society is going, will be a sign of the apocalypse.

Here's a joke stolen from people making fun of hipsters screwing in light bulbs:

How many of these new look-at-me generation writers does it take to figure out what purpose the extreme formatting, hyper-stylizing and slew of gimmicks are serving?

Maaaan, if you have to question it, you're obviously just not cool enough to understand!

In the meantime, I'll continue to feel old and irrelevant, too conservative, painfully tradition, as I keep seeing the tragically hip prop themselves up (now increasingly in actual publications!) on the egos of one another. And I'm sure I'll keep reading these stories and having to ask what the fuck is this?! Only to realize it's little more than an attention seeking advert for the writer. But where's the actual story...? The story?! Oh, god, you're so uncool!


  1. I think you made a great point in this, that it's more about HOW you write than WHAT you write. A great example of this is found over at Duotrope - so many say in their publication descriptions that they want edgy writing, experimental, something new and exciting that blows them away with its magical creative genius.

    So I don't submit to those publications because, like you, I focus on the story and not the gimmicks. I have my own voice when I write, a voice appropriate for the stories that I'm telling, and if that precludes me from submitting somewhere, or earns me a rejection, so be it.

  2. The catch-22 is that many of the publications claiming and trying to publish edgy, experimental writing, really aren't. It's often stuff that isn't really edgy or experimental because everyone had the 'oh, I'll tell the story backwards, that'll be neato' thought in junior high, thought they were brilliant, and then matured to realizing they really weren't.

    It's like, the second you acknowledge you're being edgy or experimental, you're not. :P

    It's always a fine line, though. Kevin Wilson has a story in Tunneling to the Center of the Earth called "the dead sister handbook: a guide for sensitive boys" that sounds exactly like the title. The presentation is in the form of pages from a fictional handbook that even refers to other 'pages' of the handbook. The difference is at no time in reading it do you think 'man, this Kevin Wilson guy is really great at writing experimental, far out things' I mean, you do later, if you return to the story to study it, but in the moment it just feels like a story, and like that story is existing in the only way it could possible exist. It feels genuine and real, not like a writer showing off.

    So, I dunno, maybe it's more just the old problem of good writing vs. bad writing. Good gimmicks are seen as genius. The other 99% of gimmicks are seen as a writer trying to show off?

    Or maybe there really is some merit to the feeling one gets when reading a gimmick gone bad. The feeling the writer thought 'I know what I'll do!' And when the gimmick is good, it's almost as if the writer didn't set out to make a point or be experimental, didn't think 'I know what I'll do, this'll be awesome,' but instead almost grudgingly thought 'oh, crap, I know what I HAVE to do, for the sake of the story, I just hope I can pull it off.'

    As with rapping being all about the Benjamin's, writing should be all about the story. And blogging should be all about judging my fellow writers (I think, right?) :P

  3. How many hipsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb? It's a pretty obscure number. You've probably never heard of it.

  4. Hey - sorry you got kicked from oppressivewriting forums.

    They needed you more than you needed them though I'm sure :)


  5. Thanks for the sentiment. It's all water under the [burned] bridge at this point, I suppose.

    And I don't know about that. I'm sure the constant influx of writers eager to bow to the wisdom of simplistic advice and quick to click revenue generating ads will keep coming long after I'm gone. ;)

  6. There was a decent bit of uproar about it in a lounge thread, but you know who just deleted every single post that mentioned you. Pretty solid revisionism!

    Anyway, subscribed to your blog so you better write something decent...

  7. What were the official reasons you got kicked from the forums?

    That place kind of sucks because the moment you give any constructive critiques, the butt hurt starts flowing and the author defends himself as if you just jabbed him in the eye with your prick.

  8. I sent a message to super-moderator Cogito (and as many others as it would let me cc to) explaining how he's basically a terrible mod, an idiot, and not even a good writer at that. I think the official reason if I try to log in is that I was sending out spam and flaming. The spam part is a bit idiotic (naturally), but I suppose the flaming part is pretty accurate.

    And yeah, some decent discussions, but it's always risky actually delving into direct feedback. Though, while the setting may change, the behavior doesn't, and I've seen that sort of attitude all the way up and down the writing world. Still happens in advanced fiction classrooms, still happens in personal writing groups where everyone is friends, still happens on professional levels when writers get butt-hurty about reviews that aren't just blowing smoke up their ass (smoke feels better than even a well deserved reaming, I suppose).

    That's why most good writing learning occurs in discussions and conversation where you can pretend you aren't talking about anyone's work in particular and just hope they get it on their own.

    Of course, that's increasingly difficult in places where most of the writers are hacks who hope dreams don't have to involve hard work or honesty... or worse, when you're on, say, a writing forum and they're more concerned with keeping the [paying] members happy and content and coming back. When it comes to the business of selling feedback and advice to writers, the truth isn't good for business. The longer an aspiring writer can be strung along with shitty 'show, don't tell' advice and notions that if they just keep pounding away at a keyboard with their hearts that, hey, of course they'll make it big... oh yeah, please purchase a membership!

    Writing is no longer a dream involving work and production, but more-so involving self-help and feel-good-group-therapy. Don't tell me I should be working or that there are objective, concrete things that I could be doing! I'm a writer, damn it! A WRITER! Here, take my check and tell me how great I am at showing and avoiding adverbs and that I'll make it as long as I have PASSION!

  9. "I was blessed with the [I believe true] advice that nobody gives a shit about the writer, so the sooner I get over myself, the better."

    It's funny and also true. I like your post. Thanks!

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