So, once every ten weeks or so, each of us at DGLM have to come up with a lengthier than usual blog post. Turns out that on this, the hottest week in memory, it’s my turn to come up with something to charm and/or entertain you, dear readers. Unfortunately, I think the heat has melted several key synapses and I can’t remember a single book I’ve ever read. Heck, I’m not sure I remember how to read. It really is that hot.
While casting about for subjects that don’t involve having to research the Modern Library’s 100 greatest books so I can tell you why I like the ones I’ve read or how embarrassed I am about the ones I haven’t, it occurs to me that we haven’t discussed the whole not-everyone-should-be-a-writer thing. Before you all turn on me with the internet equivalent of torches and pitchforks, hear me out.
All of us here at DGLM (including the interns) are inundated with query letters and manuscripts on a daily basis. As you know from all our nattering on about slush and having to decide what to request, we see everything — from the brilliant to the “what the…?” For the purposes of this post, let’s consider the truly awful queries which are sometimes accompanied by truly awful manuscripts. Contrary to what many of you may think after receiving a rejection letter from an agent or publisher, most of us in the business do not enjoy turning people down. Some of us have harbored our own literary fantasies and come to terms with the fact that we don’t have the courage or the talent to pursue the writing life. Most of us understand how hard and lonely a path this can be and respect the perseverance and love that it takes to plow ahead in the face of doors slamming in one’s face and the dedication to continue to work on one’s craft even when encouragement and support are in short shrift. We don’t like to turn things down, but we have to.
What most of us never say to an author whose unquestionably unreadable work has crossed our desks is that s/he should stop writing with an eye toward publication. In our eternally hopeful society, where the can-do spirit is practically encoded in our collective DNA, telling someone that they should give up trying to do something they’re just not good at is tantamount to shooting puppies. But honestly, some people should not be trying to get published. (Please note, that I’m not saying they shouldn’t be writing – if that is an enjoyable, even therapeutic pastime, carry on! – just that not everyone should be trying to get their writings published.)
Yes, ours is a subjective business and Jim McCarthy may go into a rage if someone says they didn’t love Madame Bovary while I am often called names when I say I just don’t get what the fuss about Salinger is about. But, those authors and most of the ones that do end up successfully published bring enough talent to the table – whether as storytellers, prose stylists, or thinkers – that their works enrich us on whatever level they touch our lives. Alas, too many people who are bad storytellers, incoherent and ungrammatical writers, and who have nothing new to say, think that they should have a book contract. I’m not sure there’s much that can be done about this, but I do wish we could be more honest and forthright about the fact that they probably should set their sights on other talents they might be able to develop instead of giving them false hope that maybe, if they keep going, they will attain their publishing ambitions.
As writers, do you find yourselves biting your tongue when a colleague you don’t think is particularly talented is railing about how no one “gets” their work?