Writing Update: Literary Snobs

June 6, 2010 in On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

With a week left before all assessments are due, I have officially begun to shit bricks.  However, in true writer style, I am still trying to put off working on them for as long as possible.

So let me tell you about what’s been on my mind.

Literary Snobs

The more I read and write, the more difficult it has become for me to come across what I consider “good writing.”  Not to say that I have become a good writer or a certified critic by any means, but I do find myself being pickier than ever.  I used to be able to go to a bookstore, pick up any book, start reading and just get into the story.  These days, nine out of ten times I’m too busy finding problems with the writing to enjoy it.  Makes me wish I could go back to the days when I was ignorant about what good writing is and just read everything for what it is.

Having said that, a lot of the books I complain about happen to be critically acclaimed.  Not because the writing itself is “bad”, but because I find it tedious, boring, convoluted, distracting, or hard to follow.

One of my classes drew my attention to A Reader’s Manifesto by BR Myers, a book published in 2002.  In it, Myers attacks literary fiction for being “pretentious” but at the same time protected by literary critics for political reasons or simply because they want to seem “sophisticated” when they really didn’t get it.

Amongst those criticised include award winners such as Cormac McCarthy (especially his newer style) and Annie Proulx, two writers I studied this semester and found very challenging to read (often requiring at least two readings to “get” it).

I found the crticisims highly interesting.  We live in an age where literary fiction is really suffering and genre fiction (especially crime and “vampires”) is making the big bucks.  Why is that the case?  Is it because contemporary society doesn’t have the attention span to properly appreciate literature, or is it because people simply want reading to be a pleasurable hobby that doesn’t require too much mental exertion?  And if the latter is the case, what is wrong with that?  Who is to say that writing must be “good” to be enjoyable or that enjoyable writing isn’t “good?”

I agree with Myers in that literary critics are too quick to heap praise on literary fiction and crap on genre fiction.  But I do think it is a bit of a stretch to claim the writings of award winners such as McCarthy and Proulx have no merit.  While they may be in the minority, there are people out there that truly enjoy high-brow literature for whatever reason.  And there’s nothing wrong with that either.

What annoys me is literary snobbishness — people who think readers of genre fiction must be too stupid or uneducated to appreciate literary fiction….and perhaps the opposite too — people who think lovers of literary fiction must have sticks up their butts.  Why can’t we just all agree that people have different tastes and that’s that?

For the original Atlantic Monthly article, click here.

For more information and a summary of A Reader’s Manifesto, click here.

Finding My Writing Style: Clean

June 6, 2010 in On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

One thing I have been trying to do during this course is to try and develop a particular writing style.  A style that’s distinctive and one that I feel comfortable with.  Perhaps it stems from my fear of being “discovered” as an untalented writer, but I’ve been trying to write in a clear and straightforward manner — not use any unnecessary big or “flowery” words or clutter the narrative with too many descriptions.  Get to the point.  No wasting time or mucking around, I guess.

Since adopting this approach, in two separate classes, two lecturers reviewing two different pieces of my writing have said that my narrative writing style is “clean”.  I don’t exactly know what that means.  Is “clean” just another word for “shit”?

Both narrative pieces have been short stories, so I’m not sure if this style will translate nicely to a longer piece, like say a novel.

Another bit of constructive feedback I received is that I still have a tendency to over-explain things.  Sometimes I worry that a reader won’t understand the point that I am trying to get through, so I end up spelling out the meaning for them, or add in an extra line of dialogue just to make sure it’s clear.  My lecturer tells me it’s about having more confidence in the intelligence of my reader, but I think it’s about having more confidence in my ability to get a point across.

Heartbreak for Stosur; Schiavone bags French Open

June 6, 2010 in Tennis by pacejmiller

I stayed up late last night hoping to watch Samantha Stosur capture the first female grand slam title for Australia in 30 years.

Not to be.  After downing heavyweights such as Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic in success matches, Stosur went into the French Open final against fellow debutant Francesca Schiavone as the strong favourite.  The 26-year-old Stosur had beaten the almost 30 Schiavone four times in a row, including in the final in Osaka and in the first round of the French Open last year.

Despite having the odds firmly on her side, Stosur stumbled to a 6-4, 7-6 (2) loss, giving Schiavone her first grand slam title and once again raising questions over Stosur’s mental toughness when she needs it most.

Coincidentally, that morning I came across a sports magazine from January 2010 that featured an article on Stosur, saying that it was going to be a big year for her as her mental strength was now beginning to catch up to her physical abilities.  She had always been considered a tremendous talent, but time after time, for whatever reason, she faltered at the final hurdle.

Last night was no different.  Most experts expected the younger, stronger Stosur to blow the feisty Schiavone off the court with her kick serve and thudding ground strokes.  Instead, Schiavone was the clear aggressor from start to finish, getting to the net, running after every shot, and going for the winner when the opportunity presented itself.  On the other hand, apart from a confident first service game, Stosur was extraordinarily passive.  She was hesitant, indecisive, and seemingly had no strategy against an opponent who just wanted it more.  Stosur’s first serve really let her down and she hit countless opportunities into the net.

Even though the final score indicated a close match, to me it felt like Schiavone was in control the whole way.  The key was capturing the first set, which Stosur could have done had she remained aggressive, but Schiavone took a few chances in the 9th game to get out to a lead and Stosur handed her the break with a double fault.

In the second set, there was a glimmer of hope when Stosur broke and consolidated for a 4-1 lead.  However, I never thought it was a safe lead because Stosur went back to being passive while Schiavone fought and scrapped for every point.  When Schiavone broke back and they went into the tiebreak, I knew the match was as good as over.

I’m sure Stosur will look back on her missed opportunities and wonder why she couldn’t have played the final like she did against Henin, Williams and Jankovic.  It’s heartbreaking for her but she can only learn from her mistakes.  Hopefully next time she makes a grand slam final (and the odds are pretty good), she’ll be able to take that next step and finally get over the hump.

As for Schiavone, what a terrific champion.  It’s great to see someone her age succeed at the highest level through dedication, hard work and heart.