This Is The Conversation

You and me, we’re having a conversation. We’re standing here in the digital space, jawing away about something or other. Maybe we’re talking about writing. That’s apropos, yeah? The avatars of cars whiz by. Other blogpeople — passersby in this unreal place — hurry past.

Then, out of nowhere, some clown runs up, hikes his pants down, slaps his bepimpled cheeks, and screams: “NUH-UH!”

And then he runs away.

That is not a productive way of joining the conversation. You, my clowning friend, are only interrupting. You are disrupting. Your zit-speckled moon is little more than a brick wall, and this conversation just slammed right into it. Killing all passengers.

What the hell am I talking about?

It’s like this: remember the Ten Rules For Writing Fiction meme that went around? (I did my own list here at the site, in case you missed it.)  Being on the Twitters and the web in general, I have before and since this occasionally run upon a post or a comment that is, in essence, “Fuck you, this is dumb, everybody writes differently, you can’t apply rules to it.” It’s not the first time I’ve seen that. There exists real resistance to people offering writing advice. While I blessedly don’t see it here (because you people are awesome and are not from the standard primate house of grumpy sperm-flinging bonobos) I still encounter it “out in the wild.” It’s this defiant, iconoclastic middle finger to anybody who would dare to posit new ways of doing things or new ways of thinking about things. So, the response is more or less: “That’s bullshit, man.”

Or, put differently, it’s a dude smacking his ass at you and yelling, “Nuh-uh.”

(I won’t link out to any of these blogs. I don’t want to give them traffic, and they have a right to mouth off in their spaces as much as they’d like, just as I have the right to mouth off here to all of you poor bastards!)

Listen, I get it. Nobody can force you to do things. And nobody should tell you that from his mouth comes the One True Way, sang on a beam of light shot from an angel’s mighty pucker. I certainly hope I don’t come across that way. I know I’m a belligerent blowhard. But I always try to temper with that with the idea that I’m only just figuring these things out for myself and vocalizing them. You’re merely along for the ride as I stumble through my own pits and traps and drag my own sorry ass through the weeds.

Fiction doesn’t abide by rules, man!”


Here’s the thing.

Fiction has rules, actually. Writing has rules. They might be different for different people. Or different for different genres. Or for different languages. Or editors. Or media.

Further, in those gray, hoary margins where no sure rules exist, we can still talk about the potentials, can’t we? We can have a conversation about it? Surely?

I don’t know that I’ve helped anybody. I do know that I have been helped by not just you guys, but by many of the blogs and interviews and articles out there on the subject of writing. Heck, that Tim O’Brien interview from yesterday’s PWS had that great quote (paraphrased: when on the plateaus, head for the mountains). I don’t agree with everything he said, but that one thing was right for me, and I took it, and I absorbed it into my amoebic caul and uploaded it to my chittering hive-mind, and now that shit is a deep-ass part of me. Same with all those Ten Rules. I don’t agree with every rule every other writer put forth. But I found the things I liked, and I made them a part of me.

If I had been a closed door, if I had been grumpy-gussed and vinegar-pissed about all that, I wouldn’t have been open to absorbing any of that. I wouldn’t have been open to learning. No, instead I would’ve just shown my lily white shitcan and screamed “Nuh-uh!” at the top of my ever-loving lungs.

You have to be open.

This is a conversation. A dynamic back and forth. That’s why the Internet is awesome.

And jerkholes like the ass-slapping clown is why the Internet blows.

So, to you jerkholes?

You have three options.

One: Join the conversation.

Two: Listen to, or even ignore, the conversation.

Three: Eat a dick and die.

(Or, put more politely, be a fountain, not a drain.)

(And just to be clear: I’m not talking to anyone here. I’m yelling out into the mighty digital void, y’dig?)


  • Unfortunately, John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory applies in every aspect of ‘net life, from gaming to forum discussions to blogging to YouTube to Twitter and beyond.

    I play World of Warcraft, and the number of asshats and dickweeds there is staggering. Everything is a target for jackasses to pick at, from what items your character character happens to be wearing to the name of the guild you chose to join. Fuck, I made the mistake of logging in to check a few things the night of the hockey game, and the Trade chat channel on my server was absolutely retarded with insults to Canadians.

    One thing I’ve learned about trolls though: they thrive on conflict. If you give them a forum, they will take it over. If you show frustration or argumentativeness, they giggle smugly and prepare another flame-ridden post. A lot of the time, they’re normal people who actually agree with whatever point you’re trying to make, but are unable to resist the draw of playing devil’s asshole and arguing black is white with you.

    • @Maggie —

      Word to all that.

      Thing is, I don’t know that I’d categorize these people as trolls. Trolls seem to have liquid negativity as their blood, and they aggravate just to aggravate.

      The ones I’m talking about seem to think they’re being profound or iconoclastic by talking about (and trying to end) the conversation rather than participating in it or simply leaving it be. I don’t think they’re taking joy out of it — but they have this, “Nobody knows the rules, so shut the fuck up” attitude.

      So, I figure you fight the shut-the-fuck-up with a shut-the-fuck-up. Fire with fire. Internet rage with internet rage.

      I’m also not saying that disagreements or conflict can’t be part of the conversation. They can, and should. But the giant middle finger, the ass-slapping, the boldly proclaimed, “No!” is not a conversation. It’s just a giant, yawning void. A brick wall. A toilet flush.

      — c.

  • You’re wrong. Saying that people can’t interrupt you and call you stupid is like saying that people can’t interrupt you can call you stupid. That’s stupid. Ten rules of writing? More like ten rules of ass-ing, amirite? Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Magic Talking CRAPPYBeardGIVEMEhead. That’s bullshit, man. NU-UH.

    Now that that’s out of the way… yeah. I don’t have much of a way to comment aside form anecdotes. I know there are some times I’ve inadvertently done exactly what you said – basically popping in, dropping what I think, and BLAMO, wait to bask in adoration – and I ended up having my head so far up my own ass I could taste the back of my throat. Sometimes when I voice my opinion, I do so in a casual way, and I tend to do the friendly insulting thing; with people that don’t know me, this means I come off as an amazingly arrogant prick to some. When I catch myself doing that (realizing that what I am saying, especially if it is the way I am saying it) I apologize and try to make ammends. If someone calls me on it, I feel like a total ass.

    So, all I am saying here is that yes, some people are just being douchebags. With some people it is possible they are being craptastic on accident, and don’t realize how insulting or cock-like they are being – when presented with this, take an extra five seconds and try to determine which. Not saying you need to play the bigger person, but obviously the blowhard isn’t going to be.

  • I have never understood the digging in of the heels when it comes to things like this. To begin with, the blogs and what-not that toss out a bit of writing advice aren’t tip-toeing into houses and cold-cocking people over the head, tying them to a kitchen chair with duct tape and prying their eyelids open with forks to make them read the effervescent glory that is their literary wisdom. No one is forcing them to participate. It is an open bar. Come drink if you want.

    As for me, I’ve yet to find a single word-flinger whose advice I find to be pure mental marching powder. Thus far the best bit I’ve run across is from Steven Brust. There is a bright yellow sheet paper tacked to the wall just to the side of my monitor. It says, “And now, I’m going to tell you something really cool.”

    It’s all about putting some gloves on and sifting through to find the bits of corn.

  • @Maggie: You beat me to it on Gabe’s Theory. You also hit the nail on the head when it comes to trolls.

    I’ve learned how to feed and nurture them just to get them to a point where I stomp on their hopes and dreams. Trolls thrive not on negativity, but on conflict. They’ll be nice if it means pissing someone off. Go jump into 4chan or Reddit and look for yourself. I play WOW too and trade chat is full of those attention whores.

    @Chuck: Standing up to those asshats is the way to go but you can’t fuel their ego. Don’t let them think that you agree or disagree with their point. Simply stare them in the eye and say “Hey, shithead, why don’t you go outside and play a nice game of hide-and-go-fuck-yourself?”. Then simply ignore anything else they’ve posted or said and go back to your own conversation. Ignoring their content is the stake that you can drive through their hearts. Also…if it’s me that does that…you have my permission to kick me in the nuts…

  • Fiction doesn’t just follow rules. It follows two sets of rules. The first is the general set of universal rules that apply to fiction: Less is more, active beats passive, etc. On top of that, the author (or authoress) lays down their own rules based on the progression of their plot, the growth of their characters and the ways in which conflicts are resolved, if they get resolved at all.

    In other words: yeah. Total assclown.

  • Let’s compare the number of successful writers who believe there are rules in writing (that they can break as needed) with the number of successful writers who believe there aren’t.

    I’ll wait.

    (While we’re waiting, Chuck, Rich says you’re a douche.)

    • (I’ll respond to peeps more completely later, when I’m done these script pages, but –)

      @Eddy —

      Me? A douche?

      I mean, okay, I buy that, but why? What’d I do to him, that surly bastard? Go pee in his office for me. A desk drawer or something. On some important papers. Tell him it’s from the douche.

      — c.

  • Readers, intelligent readers, understand that most things they read are opinion and meant to be taken as such. Of course certain bits of advice won’t work for everyone! That’s why it’s advice.

    I’ve found that when I water down my arguments with “This may not work for everyone but-” or “I’ve found this works for me-” or “I think this might be true-” that the resulting essay is always weak sauce.

    I do not like to read or write weak sauce. Therefore I enjoy writers like you who do not weaken the delicious written sauce.

    • @JR: I am honored to hear that you think my sauce is strong! (Erm, that sounds dirtier than it needs to.)

      @Josh: Righto. (Though, I’d argue that fiction’s only actual ‘rules’ are the ones that have to do with grammar, spelling, and other technical construction issues — everything else is fair game for discussion, but that’s the point, innit? Discussion.)

      @Paul H: You have mightily disturbed Der Wendighaus with that link. As my wife puts it, that dude looks like a mannequin + undead Lawrence Welk.

      @Paulie D: I don’t even feel the need to stand up to them in their own spaces — hey, it’s fine, they’re allowed to say what they want in their own respective “homes.” I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why anyone would rather just throw up a wall in terms of the discussion. Why end a conversation that other people are having? It’s not that they’re disagreeing. It’s that they’re obstructionist. Disagreement at least constitutes a back-and-forth, for good or bad. This is just NULL VOID NOTHING.

      — c.

    • @Will —

      No, not her. Her post is fairly even-tempered, though she certainly falls into the trap I’m talking about — more of an “I want to end this conversation” rather than, “I want to continue it.” Plus, I’m pretty sure she’s lying. I don’t know that you can be a writer and not abide by some personal rules, either stylistic ones or ones that speak to habit.

      I won’t link to offending blogs, but really, it’s a more aggro-style “middle finger” to the conversation I’m speaking of.

      — c.

  • Those types really think they’re dropping the mic after saying something profound.

    Generally, when examined, it’s more like they’re dropping their pants after saying something ignorant.

    I had to delete a number of comments on my ten rules, because it was basically that very same phenomenon. “YOU ARE WRONG! I WILL TALK ABOUT HOW MUCH MY CHARACTERS ARE THINKING ALL I WANT!” That sort of shitcock.

  • @David: I love the egotistical who think that everything you say is about them. Your rules of writing apply to you — your style, your preferences, your process. I don’t recall you saying “These apply to everyone, everywhere, all the time, because I am God and thou shalt have no other gods before me, so suck it dicknose” anywhere in your rules.

  • I think of it in micro and macro rules. Writing, as a whole, has hard-and-fast grammatical rules on the macro level. The type of writing (fiction, journalistic, advertising) have additional macro-rules. Break these rules and you basically limit your viability and usefulness to almost nil which means you will lack credibility, readership and ultimately, employability.

    On the micro level, each writer should have their own set of rules which fit with their stylistic point of view. It helps you maintain your integrity.

    Anyone who simply argues for arguing is foolish. You never know who will help you tailor either your macro or micro rules to your benefit.


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