Friday, August 26, 2011

Criticize this blog post

I always get crotchety when I read a blog post that is just a rehashing of someone else's blog post or article or whatever. You know the kinds of posts I'm talking about: he-said-she-said-I-said-we-think-alright! I mean, can I get a little originality here?

Of course, I get crotchety with absolute hypocrisy, not necessarily because I do the same thing (although I've been known to partake), but because it is due to the re-writing of others' work by people that I actively follow that brings work hitherto unknown to me to my attention. Like last night: I read a blog post by Shaun Duke that was about a blog post by Mark Charan Newton that was based on a quote from an interview with Tobias Wolff at The Guardian. It was all very interesting, and I wouldn't have heard about it if it weren't for the fact that I follow Shaun's blog.

But I still get crotchety.

I think this is because these chains of social-mediatic-idea-flow are usually predicated on complete agreement. Nothing, essentially, was added in the chain of events that led me from my source to the original article. And this is what happens most of the time: people are riffing off each other, gleeful of their agreement.

And that's awesome. I'm a very agreeable person. When I disagree about something, it's usually with a certain vehemence, because in 99% of situations I always see the other side, and think, "Yeah, well, okay!" I mean, heck, Israeli-Palestinian conflict? I dig you! I dig all of you. I would totally be killing those jerks so hard if I was you! Or, conversely, if I was you. So, if I disagree, it's probably with passion.

But the point is that it's always kind of disappointing to watch the chain of regurgitation. Just re-tweet it, bro! I don't need commentary: I need criticism. I've been more or less plugged into the SF&F blog/web cycle/circle for the past year, particularly on the writers' side, and especially particularly on the aspiring writers' side, and all too often everything is just pat, just wonderfully fucking agreeable. Laudations everywhere! Drool for the latest books! Exhortations for everyone in the world to read every author! Liberal politics expounded and re-expounded! Hooray!

Alas: there just aren't that many blogs where people will just rip into whatever. This is probably because I'm reading a lot of writers who fear that some misplaced word will kill their career. Nonetheless, this forces me to turn for my more substantive blog-reading to, mostly, the OF blog, and a few other select places that will occasionally provide actually stimulating criticism or examinations of things that aren't just part of the great canons of art/text/ideas handed down from Tor/Gollancz/their major authors/and/or/whatever. The Mumpsimus is another blog I recently came upon - linked to, in fact, from the OF blog - that actually doles out criticism. In the latest post about Chaos Cinema, the blogger isn't just vapidly spewing up something he heard somewhere, but actually encountering and interoggating someone else's hard-won thoughts in order to arrive at new, full ideas - and giving me a chance to consider and re-consider my own conceptions at the same time. In short, he is expanding the realm of the text(s) in question.

It's way more enjoyable reading, suffice to say.

Anyway, it's not like I'm a terribly critical person or anything, and I like that I can snatch at interesting stories through "the grape vine;" but I really do wish more writers were willing to be critical. Larry at the OF blog and Matthew at Mumpsimus aren't really "writers," they're critics; but I don't understand why so many writers are afraid of being both.



  1. Funny you should bring this up: I was just at Worldcon, where I had dinner with some other aspiring writers and it completely fell apart when I contradicted some of the things they were saying about character and story structure. Instead of engaging me in a critical discussion about the topic, they tried to dismiss me as being overly argumentative, then proceeded to put up an impassioned, almost irrational defense of their point of view. It was a very weird experience.

    This might sound misogynistic, but I wonder if this pat-the-back culture stems from a disproportionate number of female aspiring writers engaging with each other on blogs and social media. I have absolutely no data to back that up, but it's been my experience that stay at home moms power the blogosphere, and they tend to be more about providing support and encouragement than engaging in critical discussions.

    Of course, a lot of these same womenturn around and become a lot more critical on book review sites like Goodreads. If you're looking for criticism, maybe that's the place to go.

  2. Interesting story, Joe. One of the problems is that us aspiring authors are easily enamoured by the advice columns of the professionals, and latch on to theories that have no interesting basis other than one person's experience. Still, it's hard to contradict someone who seems to have done something right - even if, ultimately, they may not be able to understand or convey what was done right, or may have done a lot wrong but got lucky, or may base their rightness on bases that don't appeal to you as a writer.

    Be careful where you go with your hypothesis about women, though. That's a long poop-chute to traverse on the Internet.

  3. ... and totally wrong, according to my experience. See N. K Jemisin's blog, for example, and then all the guy's with stupid schemes for their writing careers and crappy product.