Quote of the week

I grind out a fair number of words around here, and on the side I’ve thrown together 53,032 words of fanfic. This massive body of work qualifies me to call myself — well, nothing, as Bill Quick explains:

Most people are horrible writers and have no hope of ever being anything but horrible. Even the ones who are dedicated enough to actually put out a few words are, for the most part, horrible. The people who put out lots of words, arrange them into finished products — books, stories, screenplays, even well-read blogs — are scarce as hen’s teeth. Scarcer. Because not only do you need to acquire the craft of writing (craft? who dat?), you need some sensitivity to the art of writing and then, at bottom, you have to have talent. I understand that within the American ethos there is something faintly … repulsive … about the notion that some intangible nobody can really quantify, something you may as well have been born with, makes you better than most other god-fearing Amurricans at doing something, but there it is.

I’d argue that I’m better at it now than I was sixteen years ago, but that doesn’t make me good at it.

Playing in the fanfic sandbox has been at times humbling. I don’t really think in long form — I have yet to produce a story over 20,000 words, though three of them could be reasonably combined into a single narrative in the 40k range — but I am surrounded by people who do this as easily as falling off a bandwagon, serving as a regular reminder of this particular inadequacy. (I have others.) Some of these folks might be good enough to make a living at this sort of thing. And if they do, they’ll probably run into the same issues Bill Quick does:

[P]ro writers (a pro, who gets paid for it, is almost by definition a writing success) get it from both directions: First, most folks think what they do is easy, and second, they resent that if it’s not easy, that’s because of some unfair advantage these mountebanks are born with.

And even in this sandbox, there are those who are unhappy with their lot. So what else is new?


  1. Bill Quick »

    7 December 2012 · 1:21 pm

    Chaz, I read you because you’re a good writer. And while I may not be able to precisely define “good,” I damned well know it when I see it. Don’t sell yourself short.

  2. McGehee »

    7 December 2012 · 1:54 pm

    The most successful of the handful of remuneratively successful writers I know have disclaimed repeatedly any notion that they find it easy. When I told Clancy I was getting anxious to read his next book he grumbled that writing the damn things just takes so long.

  3. McGehee »

    7 December 2012 · 1:55 pm

    Um, Tom Clancy. I’ll blame the keyboard. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  4. SteveF »

    7 December 2012 · 2:58 pm

    So, what are the fanfics? I’m hoping to see a My Little Pony-Resident Evil crossover.

    My first encounter with fan fiction was about ten years ago. I was looking online for the lyrics for a couple of anime theme songs and stumbled on facfics. My first thought was, What the hell *is* this? I think that was the most appropriate response.

    My second encounter with fan fiction was when my wife came storming into my office demanding that I do something about it. She’d caught Son#1, a preteen, reading adult-themed stories and apparently it was my fault.

    My third encounter with fan fiction was when I was helping some Asian kids with their English. Turns out they’d *all* written fanfics. They’d all written Harry Potter fanfics. Every one of the girls had a story about how Harry’s true love was either Snape or Draco. Every one of the boys had a story about Harry and a bevy of half a dozen girlfriends. *shudder* I thought I had seen true horror before…

  5. Brett »

    7 December 2012 · 3:11 pm

    “When I told Clancy I was getting anxious to read his next book he grumbled that writing the damn things just takes so long.”

    That must have been back when he was actually writing them himself.

  6. CGHill »

    7 December 2012 · 3:29 pm

    Did somepony say “MLP/Resident Evil crossover?”

    The beginning of one.

    My own stuff is listed in the sidebar under “Pony tales.”

  7. SteveF »

    7 December 2012 · 3:43 pm

    Hrm. I had not previously been aware of MLP/RE crossover fanfic. I’m not sure I’m happier with my view of the world now that I am aware of them…

    I’ll take a look at that one later. It’s gotta be great, right? I mean, multi-colored magical ponies and walking dead? What could possibly go wrong?

  8. fillyjonk »

    7 December 2012 · 3:47 pm

    I think it’s human nature to believe that such things are the result of some innate, “unfairly distributed” talent, rather than hard work. (Talent redistribution, anyone?)

    Probably because it’s easier to claim the person has talent we were unfairly prevented from having, than to admit that we’re not willing to put in the work necessary for achievement.

    I see it all the time, on a college campus: “Oh, X is *really smart* and X gets high grades all the time” (with the undertone of “X, that bastard….”). As someone who was a “really smart” student who got “high grades all the time,” I know I spent loads of time studying that I might rather have spent doing other things. (For example: I know almost nothing of “Friends” or of “Seinfeld,” the two popular sitcoms when I was in undergrad/grad school).

    While it may soothe the ego of the person unwilling to put in the hard work to claim that it’s “all talent,” it’s also not fair to the person swotting away at whatever.

    Also, to be a good writer, I think you first have to be a good reader. You need to be able to internalize the rules and conventions before you start to apply (or in some cases, break) them.

  9. CGHill »

    7 December 2012 · 5:22 pm

    I’m pretty sure I didn’t have any innate talent, since I was a terrible writer as a student; I was thirty-five before I developed any skills at all.

    Of course, I have to keep hacking away at it, the same way piano students have to practice; the best of them are constantly at work, and the worst of them need to be.

  10. fillyjonk »

    7 December 2012 · 5:51 pm

    Oh my yes. The “talent is really 80% hard work” thing has been served up to me again on a silver platter with the whole piano lessons thing.

  11. sya »

    7 December 2012 · 6:55 pm

    Well, at least with it being hard work rather than talent, there’s a possibility that we’d get good at something. Even if the possibility is only realized in a parallel universe…

  12. McGehee »

    7 December 2012 · 8:12 pm

    That must have been back when he was actually writing them himself.

    The OpForce and other franchises may have started by then but he still wrote at least a couple himself since, I think. I haven’t read his most recent non-franchise one yet.

    I read a couple of the franchise books and was unimpressed.

  13. McGehee »

    7 December 2012 · 8:18 pm

    As someone who was a “really smart” student who got “high grades all the time,” I know I spent loads of time studying that I might rather have spent doing other things.

    I still find learning easy, if it’s a subject I’m interested in. I’ll get interested in something, go on a learning tear, reach a point where I think I’ve satisfied my curiosity, and move on.

    It took a lot to get me to that point when I was in school, at least until the teachers began trying on purpose to make learning tedious. Before that, while I certainly did put in a lot of time doing what amounted to studying, it didn’t feel like hard work to me.

    I suspect that’s what people call talent — just loving what you’re doing so much it’s more fun than work. Me not know.

  14. Jess »

    7 December 2012 · 9:34 pm

    I think writing is an art. much like painting, or music. While some are prodigies, others only intrigue, or satisfy for a moment. That’s enough. Leading others through thoughts is satisfying, even if there is only one reader.

  15. Brett »

    7 December 2012 · 11:37 pm

    “I read a couple of the franchise books and was unimpressed.”

    Other than Red October, I’ve never grooved on Clancy. The latest stuff with the co-authors is, I believe, done Cussler-style in which the name brand author offers story ideas and polish while the tiny-print co-author does most of the actual writing.

  16. Charles Pergiel »

    8 December 2012 · 12:53 am

    There is such a thing as talent. One hard-working but not-so-talented writer can turn out a good work, but it might take them ten times as long as to produce it as a talented person. If a talented person makes no effort, they will produce nothing. Also, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One person’s idea of a great story can easily be another person’s dreck. There are things I am good at and which I have some talent for, and there are others that I am not so good at. I have to work at writing for instance. Sometimes I produce stuff that makes sense, and I sometimes it doesn’t.

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