Rejection

I really hope agents and editors can reject submissions without crap like this:

“The B.A.A. recognizes the achievement of everyone who has met the qualifying standards that we have established for the race.”

That’s the Boston Marathon letting me know that I don’t get an entry despite running a qualifying time. The question is, who is that statement for?

Do they really think there’s a single person who will feel better after reading that? Your message required two words: Application Declined. If all I wanted was the achievement of qualifying, I wouldn’t have applied.

For my money, it’s just about impossible to write this kind of “we regret to inform you” gentle letdown without sounding disingenuous and/or condescending. About the only time I’ve seen it work was on Princeton’s rejection letter back in the days of yore. They said I was clearly a gifted student and an all-around decent human being and it was their loss that there wasn’t a place for me in the freshman class. It was actually quite nice.

But I had equal respect for Stanford’s rejection letter. They said my application was rejected, there was no way to appeal the decision, and there was no waiting list. Left implied was that I had brought shame to my family and every member of the admissions board would fight to their last breath to keep me from attending the college. No fluff there.

Of course, the contents of a college rejection letter have no point to begin with, because everyone knows that the small envelope doesn’t have good news.

Really, I think these attempts to soften the blow are for the writer, not the reader. When you’re crushing someone’s dreams, you naturally want to reassure yourself that it’s for reasons, not just because you’re an asshole.

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Habit Forming

I somehow imagined that, once I finally managed to finish a novel, I would get better at sitting my ass down to write on a regular basis. Surely the effort and discipline that went into writing 80,000 words would translate into a permanent habit, right?

Fool.

Not so much. It’s been over a year since I finished my second draft of that first novel (down to 60,000 words. Revision matters!), and if anything I probably spend less time writing for myself now than before.

It’s not that I don’t have free time.

Yeah, you’re paying how much to store the kid at daycare?

My professional obligations ebb and flow the way they always have. I still get home at a reasonable hour most days.

But there are still a ton of things to do that aren’t writing. It was laughable to think I would suddenly find it easier to write books than to read them, or be more motivated to spend my evenings with Google Docs instead of the X-Box.

You’re seriously going with that rhyme?

Somehow, I manage to spend an awful lot of time feeling like I don’t have an awful lot of time. So obviously the solution is to stop feeling sorry for myself and get to work. That’s a lot easier to type than do.

I’ve looked up all kinds of motivational techniques for us lazy writers. Really, they all pretty much boil down to “Type, bitch!” Like just about every endeavor, there’s no secret to success. People who aren’t successful just assume there is.

At least this week has gone well. I’ve managed to put in some time every day so far, at least if you count this blog post as creative.

I wouldn’t.

Precision

From the ESPN Bottom Line™®©Ω:

“Steward withdrew from Sunday’s NASCARE Sprint Cup race after his car[,having been inhabited by the spirit of the devil, acting in accordance with his malevolent will, and paying no heed to the desperate attempts of its righteous, god-fearing driver to prevent a tragic occurrence of tragedy,]   struck and killed 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr., who was on foot, during a dirt track race Saturday night.”

[implied]

And that’s why you don’t use the passive voice, kids. Except you have to if you’re reporting on an ongoing legal issue, in which case the principle of presumption of innocence means you have to make a murderous car the actor instead of the popular driver, who coincidentally is a popular draw when your network airs car races.

Then you have to commit awful crimes against English to make sure the driver doesn’t sue you and his fans don’t send you angry tweets. I suppose that’s a reasonable price to pay for a theoretically fair justice system (let’s not go there). But it sure makes me twitch when I watch TV.

Strunk You

I’m really sick of this kind of disrespectful application of English:

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It cheapens the language of Shakespeare and makes everyone who reads it a little bit dumber.

Nobody is impressed when you correct someone.

Oh, check out that clever reversal you just did. Been working on that all day?

Look, the state of spelling and grammar these days is pretty horrid, especially on the internet. You know it, and I know it. But it doesn’t annoy me nearly as much as the legions of smug pedants we have running around.

No one’s impressed with your vocabulary, either. Pedant…

Spelling and grammar are not signs of intelligence. Smart people can mix up theirthey’re, and there. And dumb people can buy the Gregg Reference Manual.

Perfect usage just means you learned the rules and pay attention to detail. Good for you. But correcting people like a dick is the easiest way for a stupid person to sound smart for other stupid people. And if the only counter argument you have for someone’s statement is that they used its when they meant it’s, you’ve lost and just don’t know it. Let’s face it, that rule is backwards anyway.

Getting your proofread on isn’t funny either. See above. That zombie joke started out stupid, and the extra layer didn’t make it any better.

Just stop. Roll your eyes at the mistakes and move on.

You’re not just saying this because your typos frequently include misspelling the name of your employer, right?

Who Am I to You?

I think about language a little differently now that I’m part of the process of teaching one to a tiny human. My original plan was to always speak to Noodle in normal English. I figured I could show my love without cooing or putting ‘-ie’ sounds at the end of every word. I had this idea that infantilizing my speech would stunt the baby’s verbal development, forcing me to retrain her to speak ‘properly’ later on.

So you’re a linguist now? Got it.

Of course, when Noodle arrived I learned it’s basically impossible to speak to a child under a certain age without trying to sound cutsie. Something in my brain absolutely demands that I squeak and gasp at her. And rather than teaching her to call me Dad from minute one, I find I’d much prefer she call me Daddy forever.

You’re just a big softie.

But other questions about how to teach Noodle come up. This morning I found myself wondering if I should be referring to myself in the third person with her. “Yep. That’s Daddy’s ear. Please let go. It hurts when you–OW!”

At first I thought I was teaching her that everyone speaks in the third person. But then I thought that could be a necessary first step, because what I’m really doing is teaching her my name. If always use the first person with her, will she think I = Daddy? Then I realized she was about to climb into the trash can and had to stop thinking about language for a bit.

You really have no idea what you’re doing, do you?

Limited Intel

I generally don’t care for first person narration.

Isn’t that just because you can’t write it very well?

It’s often a trap, an easy way to lose yourself in your protagonists thoughts until your story is nothing but meandering introspection.

Like … a blog?

But that’s just in the hands of us amateur hacks. The pros usually manage to remember that characters need to actually do things besides think clever thoughts. But even then, being inside the narrator’s head always seems to break me out of the story.

First, with rare and usually lame exceptions, I know the narrator is going to survive the story. So deadly peril is never very exciting. Yes, I know that knowing the good guy wins shouldn’t ruin the story because HOW the good guy wins still matters. But there’s the second problem I often run into:

“Not looking down, I gathered up my father’s gun. I fiddled with it a moment, then raised it directly at Steelheart.” – Brandon Sanderson, STEELHEART.

Spoiler: that moment of fiddling is how the good guy fools the bad guy and wins. But what did the narrator do? After an entire novel of clearly described action, the narrator gets coy at the pivotal moment. 

The reason is obvious: it’s too soon for the reader to know. This is the twist. But why does the narrator care about spoiling the twist? He’s a teenage freedom fighter struggling to overthrow the evil supervillains who have taken over the world. What does he care about dramatic tension and payoff?

It just feels like a cheat to me. The narrator as a character doesn’t have a reason to conceal information. But that kind of concealment is usually vital to a good story. Sanderson is probably my favorite living author, and even he falls into the trap.

Of course, maybe this only bothers me because I “read like a writer.” Maybe casual readers tend not to notice or care.

Elitist jerk.