Does a “serious” fiction author have a place on Medium?
should we write about our writing in the first place?
When I wrote in Location, Location, Location that I “assiduously avoid” reading blogs on writing, I wasn’t being snarky. Like background research and internet browsing, to say nothing of social media (how many times can you refresh your Twitter feed in 1 minute? I bet I can beat you). Worse, blogs and forums on writing can be downright discouraging, filled with misinformation, disinformation, conflicting opinions, thinly disguised sales pitches … and of course, trolls. “Our agents will not read unsolicited submissions” — not true! And is it just me, or were the user interfaces of these vaunted “writer’s forums” last updated back when we walked around with iPods featuring hard drives that actually spin? That is, back in the day where there iPods.
Writing is art. Full stop. Basta. No one can tell you how to write, successfully or otherwise, no more than one can tell a painter or sculptor their work is “right” or “wrong”. I don’t mean you cannot learn techniques (you should) or practice your craft (you must!). And of course journalistic writing shouldn’t resemble journaling — but the boundary between poetry and prose? Fluid and fuzzy.
And there, in the little preceding paragraph, I have (unintentionally?) demonstrated why I avoid reading blogs and forums on writing. Even the title of this piece can evoke thoughts like “geez, I have three unpublished manuscripts. Am I not a serious fiction author? Wow, I guess not.” Or “I don’t even write short stories, I write microfiction. No way am I a serious fiction author. I must not even be an author at all, at best I’m just a writer. And what the hell is the difference, anyway?” You see why it’s better to avoid even giving yourself the opportunity to read a title like this on some blog or forum? It’s funny, my original title was going to begin something like “Does a writer of long-form fiction …” but to me this didn’t scan well.
I played ‘cello under two successful conductors/music directors. (My ‘cello got to the community orchestra level or an occasional wedding, never beyond that.) One conductor would prepare a piece by studying every single recording he could get his hands on, 30+ was not uncommon. The other guy insisted on not listening to anyone else’s version because it would completely mess up his own interpretation. Which one was right? I’d say both.
Piano was a different story. For years I’d practiced four, five, six hours a day. As a child and teenager you couldn’t pry me from the keyboard. I detested scales and exercises but I still did them. Loved sight-reading, did that too. I was no Martha Argerich, but I got pretty darn good. I played one of Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words at a week-long master class at a prestigious conservatory. I was proud of my interpretation. Not a wrong note. The experts’ critiques were blistering. “Where did you learn an interpretation like that? And who taught you such fingering? Some Russian?” (Yes, in fact). I was devastated. Then the very next weekend, I played Debussy’s Claire de lune at a church service. A big, burly guy came up to me at the end of the service and thanked me for “the most moving piece of music” he had ever heard. He really did have tears in his eyes. Faith restored. My piano playing suffered when I developed serious pain in my left hand. Not because of the piano, it was from a combination of intense software programming on a table that was the wrong height, using a non-ergonomic keyboard, and never having learned how to type.
Do I adhere to the aphorism “an author should read, read, and then read some more”? Yes, and no. I read assiduously, especially when I’m writing, which is always nowadays. But I strictly read non-fiction (mostly biography) or poetry. I go nowhere near fiction in my own genre (whatever that exactly is I’ve yet to figure out).
I hope this piece has helped you. But I understand completely if you gave it a swerve as soon as you read the title.