Bare List on the Death of Literature

The debate of the future of literature has raged for generations with academics and critics alike claiming novels to be a dying art form. “Thought provoking prose steeped in imagery and symbolism are dead” claim these elite voices from high horses. We are a “receiver” culture these days. We only want to be entertained and produce algorithmic tomes that are easily read and digested over a lunch hour and leave us as quickly as our club sandwich.

I call bullshit. Literature is not dead, in fact, I will claim here and now that literature will never die. I know this because I know and believe in the writer. Giving life to a novel is giving a piece of yourself to the world. It is a grind and the biggest pay off for most of us is that our words can directly benefit another human being. There are far easier ways to make a lot more money than producing a novel. Has it been done? Are there authors churning out cookie-cutter work to turn a profit? Sure, but they are the exception, not the rule. The majority of us wouldn’t toil away, forsaking better reason and judgement to create something for the world to scrutinize for only a paycheck. We do it because we have stories to tell, lives we hope to change, world’s we want to bring to life. We do it because literature affects us as readers and we want the chance to have the same affect on others.

So, why do these naysayers claim our art dead? A lot of reasons, first and foremost being fear. The world is changing, we consume content in ways we never have before and there’s boundless possibilities for how we will consume it in the future. Some older generations speculate that our “entitled” youth will lose patience for sitting down and reading a book. That they will not want to think hard because in the age of Google, you don’t have to. I know this is wrong because I have children. The one old enough to read keeps his nose buried in books most of his waking hours. He’s read a huge chunk of the “classics” and a large selection of the modern masterpieces, and he’s not alone. The vast majority of his young compatriots share his love of reading. It’s not a “dorky” or “nerdy” thing to do as it was when I was young, it’s a center of their conversation.

Enthusiasm can be cited as another reason for the death call of literature. Thomas Wolfe proclaimed that “New Journalism” would replace novels, meanwhile his fellow Merry Prankster, Ken Kesey, wrote some of the greatest literary works of the 20th century. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion (possibly my favorite novel of all time) were both published amid speculation that literature was dead (1962 and 1964). Did Wolfe believe that Kesey and Thompson were creating mindless dribble that would put the death nail into the novel? No, he believed that the escapades he was embarking on would change the literary world to an extent that novels as we knew them would cease to exist. He had right to be excited. What Wolfe, Thompson, Kesey, and others did was amazing and they have inspired generations of authors and journalists. Their combined works changed the landscape of literature, hell, society, but it didn’t replace literature. It added to it.

Plain old generational snobbery is another factor that keeps the debate alive. The older we get, the more we judge the youth living in our present. Nostalgia and experience dull our senses to accepting new and different ways of doing things. We lose understanding of how Harry Potter could evoke the same emotion as To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s the same across arts, really. Older generations long for the simpler comedies of I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show to today’s Modern Family and New Girl. Does that mean that the sitcom is dead? No. It means that they have changed, evolved. I’m of what I like to call “The Nick at Nite Generation” so I will watch and laugh at any and all of those, but older generations will cling to the first as hard as some younger may cling to the second. It doesn’t make any entity inherently better than the other, but quality is in the eye of the beholder.

Also, and finally, some people are just pretentious little shits who like to claim that all work today is crap because it makes them feel smarter than everyone. These guys are just jerks.

Great works of literature can be entertaining. In fact, it’s best if they are because then they can reach and affect more people. Books are not pain. They are not elitist works meant only to be enjoyed by the academically gifted. They are powerful mechanisms of change. Thought provoking prose and enduring symbolism can be found in many great works of our time. Lives have been changed by thousands of books that have been published this century.

Literature is not dead because writers/readers won’t let it die. If you’re working on the next great masterpiece in literary fiction, keep working. Don’t be dissuade by the condescending voice of the few, write to reach the many that need your words.

Bare List on NaNowWhat?

A week has passed since the #amwriting community closed on NaNoWriMo 2017. You’ve given 30 days of your life to pounding out words, diligently bringing your masterpiece to life. It’s gone from a concept dancing in your brain to a living document awaiting your love and attention. So, now, what do you? Your heart is racing with anticipation for the future of your manuscript. There’s so much work to be done, but where to start? Recruiting a critique circle? Beta readers? Editing? No. None of those. What you’re going to do now with that precious piece of yourself you’ve worked so hard to make happen is break up with it.

Yes, you read that correctly. Break the hell up with your manuscript. 

But why? I love my novel! I’m ready to dive in and make it perfect and watch the future of this perfect prose unfold! I know you are, and that’s why you’ve got to give it a break. You are too emotionally attached right now, too entrenched with your characters. You’ve been involved in a hot and heavy romance with your words and you need some time to cool off. You and your work are going to be involved in a super committed, long term relationship, so you deserve time to sow some wild oats before you’re ready to march down the aisle.

Right now, your work needs to sit. I know you have a lot of ideas bouncing around in your head and probably a stack of notes on what you want to improve, but right now, the work is best served by you forgetting it exists for at least 30 days. I know, it’s horrible to think about. You’ve not worked so hard on this to put it in a drawer and forget about it, but your novel will be better for it. Looking on your work with fresh eyes will give you the opportunity to have a truer sense of the story you’re telling and a more honest regard for the words on the page. You will be pleasantly surprised by some of your choices and mortified by others. That’s the process. If you delve into the editing while you’re still fresh on the heels of every decision you made, you will still have an attachment to those decisions, some of which may be detrimental to your work. You may be in love with something that needs to go or cut something you forced in for deadline that is actually really beneficial. Time helps avoid that.

I know everything in you is screaming at me. You’re already finding ways to sidestep this important part of the process. You’re objective enough, you only need two weeks, you can have beta readers be objective. No, friends. At least this first revision, the responsibility is on you to have that self-restraint and let your novel sit.

So, what can you do while your manuscript simmers?

  1. Write – Never stop writing. You established that you can put the words on the page, so keep doing it. Free write, join writing challenges. December is National Novel Finishing Month, International Plot a Writing Month, and International Story a Day Group. You can join those (and many more all year long) to keep you motivated or start your own.
  2. Read – The best writers are readers. There’s no better way to spend the cold winter months than snuggled up in a cozy chair reading, so hunker down and get to it.
  3. Research – If you want to stay involved with your work, spend your time researching its future. What does the market look like for your genre? How can you best promote your work? What agents best align with your novel?
  4. WIPs – This is a great time to focus on any other work you may have in progress. Edit a novel you loss interest in, expand on that short story you started in free writing last year, send out your older work to some beta readers.
  5. Workout – What? What sweating have to do with writing? A lot. Creativity, focus, and mental stamina are all improved by a healthy workout program. Writing is great for mind and spirit, but sitting at a computer all day is bad for your joints, circulation, and muscles. So, get up and get moving. Yoga is great for flexibility and focus, core training will help save you the back problems inherent of a career in front of the computer, and cardio will give you a chance to brainstorm your next work or get to know your characters a little better.

Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? Share them in the comments.

Bare List on Writing for Free

There’s this insane misconception in the writing world that it is acceptable to be paid in “exposure”. Are there situations where this may be true? Certainly. If the Rock asks you to write a piece for him to endorse and share on his media outlets solely for exposure, do it. Here’s the thing though: Dwayne Johnson is not going to ask you to shlep your craft for free because he is an artist and he recognizes that it takes a lot of work to create something meaningful.

You know who doesn’t respect your hard-earned words? Big content companies like Huffington Post and LA Weekly who want to exchange your grind for the bleak chance that you will be able to build a fan base while earning them the big bucks. I know, as an aspiring author/journalist it can be INSANELY tempting to submit to any outlet that offers the possibility of seeing your story in print. This post isn’t about shaming anyone or getting on a high horse and proclaiming that wanting to work for free makes you a “less than”. It’s not that AT ALL. I completely get why aspiring writers would gravitate towards these outlets. It’s part of paying your dues? There are unpaid internships in every industry, this is no different, right? Wrong. Being published by media corporations hoping to lower their labor cost by piggy-backing on your hard work is not the equivalent of an unpaid internship. Here’s why:

  1. You’re not learning the industry – Media outlets, publishers, agents, etc. do not follow the same process as Content Monsters that just ask you to submit work for them to publish/reject. Internships/apprenticeships/first jobs are meant to give you experience in your field. To grow your knowledge base and make you more comfortable in that world. Free content contribution is like being a cashier at McDonald’s when you aspire to be the next sous chef for Emeril: they’re in the same industry, but it’s a long, complicated road to get where you want to go.
  2. You will not build a network – These companies sell young writers on the idea that by being published with their outlet, they will have the opportunity to gain exposure and that’s more valuable than money. Exposure is valuable, especially when you’re starting out, BUT a microscopic amount of writers actually gain communities from these outlets. You will work your ass off for maybe three extra Twitter followers. However, the outlet still gets money. It’s not a symbiotic relationship.
  3. Your resume will not be boosted One of the MAJOR benefits of internships is that they look good on a resume when you head out into the world to find a job. Being an unpaid contributor to a Big Content outlet will not do the same for you. Agents, publishers, journalists, etc. are familiar with these organizations and 99% of the time will not be impressed that you’ve had work published there.
  4. You risk hurting your work – These companies have a formula for what they want to publish, and often times it is below the grade that you are capable of writing. They either want easy reads that are easily shared or emotionally charged rants that care more about evoking rage than stating facts. This is not what yo want your potential employers to see.
  5. Your work is worth getting paid for – Yes, you are new. You have no credentials and writing is a hard industry to break into for a lot of people. I get that. I do. But hear me: your words are worth money. Your plots may still need work, your voice may need refinement, but you are in this world working and striving to get better, and that’s how I know you are going to make it one day. Do not sell yourself short because you are afraid of going for the paid outlets. Do not be deterred because you’ve got a stack of rejection letters the size of a doctoral dissertation. THAT’S PAYING YOUR DUES. That’s your unpaid internship: submitting, getting destroyed, and getting back up again. Taking the feedback that people who respect writers are willing to give you and moving forward until the RIGHT outlet(s) are ready to publish your work. Believe that. 

Writing is a hard industry. It comes with a lot of rejection and self-doubt and Big Media Corporations prey on that. They know that you are willing to work and grind and do whatever it takes, and they’re looking to get a paycheck they have not earned off of your blood, sweat, and tears. Don’t let them. Your words are worth more.

Do you have experience with any of these media corporations? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Bare List on The Lie of Loving Your Work

“Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”- Some idiot

This decorates many a reclaimed wood mantle piece, we scream it to high school graduates as they jet off to college, and a plethora of CEO’s cite it in corporate speeches. I’ve endlessly Googled the originator of this idiom to mixed results. Some attribute it to Confuscious, others to Marc Antony, a few to Harvey Mackay, and so on. Why is the original mastermind of this idiom so hard to pinpoint? Because it’s utter bullshit made up as a practical joke against humanity and the originator didn’t want to be associated with it for eternity. 

I hear this “life advice” so often it makes me want to become a scientist exclusively for the goal of building a time machine to go back and smack the thought right out of the knuckle brain’s head before this curse can be laid upon our society, and also kill Hitler and what not, but the curse priority one. It is wrong on basically every level and yet we still dole it out like breath mints at a garlic festival.

Let me tell you, I love what I do. I have a fervent passion for my career and my life, and I work every damn day. Alright, not every damn day, but the vast majority of damn days, I put in work. I wake up early and go to bed let, I grind out words on a page, take calls during carpool, and beg the Lord to put more hours in my day in the hope that one day my “To Do” list can be “Ta Done”.

“Yes, but you love the work so it’s not really working,” claim the ever hopeful souls clinging to the belief that this maxim will some day prove true. I’m gonna go ahead and crush those dreams right now: there is always work. Even if you are living your dream and completely fulfilled with your chosen life course, there will be work. There will be long hours, sleepless nights, and aspects of the job you don’t enjoy. Is it worth it? Yes, absolutely 100% worth it, but it will be work. Being a writer, for example, work. Lots of it. Not just the act of writing itself, which can be painful and grueling, but the edits, queries, promotions, social media building, speaking engagements that go along with it, all work. The synopses! Y’all, it’s more work to condense 80,000 words down to a page or two than it is to write the novel. I would rather write, edit, and query 50,000 manuscripts than write one synopsis, but I have to do it. I have to work.

Does that mean I don’t love what I do? Absolutely not, and that’s the first danger of this idiom is that it makes people believe they must be failing if they’re working. They must not love what they do enough if sometimes their jobs make them want to gouge their eyes out. Really, the inverse is true. The more you love what you do, the more days of your life you will be working. You will find yourself hard at work at 1 a.m. because you believe in your mission. You will work through lunch because on a personal level, you need this work to be completed even more than you need to feed your body. It’s easier to only work when necessary when you don’t care about your job. To leave work there and be free of the stress and fatigue associated with it. When you love what you do, you work harder to make sure you keep doing it.

More dangerous than that misconception though, is the insinuation that for work to be worthwhile, you must love what you do. Blatant untruth that sets up many an existential crisis. You do not have to love what you do to find meaning in what you do. You can hate everything about your job if you can find your purpose in it. Putting food on the table, gaining experience in your career field, getting a break to reset your priorities, etc. Example, I bar tended through college. Hated everything about the actual profession. The long hours, the backbreaking work, flirting with drunks for a bigger tip, pretending the same joke was funny the 400th time, being disrespected by people that look down on those in the service industry. The list goes on guys. While bartending is a great profession, it was awful for me. Sixty hours a week was hard to balance with a full course load, I missed all of my school’s sporting events, and I was always at work while my friends were playing, but it was meaningful, and I gave my all to that job. Not only was it a means for me to finance my education, I made great friends, I was exposed to a lot of great connections, and I was in great shape. In my years bartending, it went from a job I had to do, to one I took pride in and even looked forward to because I chose to find meaning in it, and finding that meaning made working worth it, even though I didn’t love what I did.

I worked with a lot of great bartenders who absolutely loved what they did and would not do anything else even if it was offered to them, but you know what they still did? They still worked (see how that came full circle?) Even though they loved their careers, they worked just as hard as I did, and in the beginning, even harder. They inspired me to work harder. From that job that I hated (but also really kind of loved because I made so many great stories and war stories from the service industry are the most fun to tell at parties) I learned the valuable life lesson that no matter how much you love what you do, there will be work.

I see so many fledgling writers, talented people with unique voices and interesting stories, that feel like they’re failing when writing is work. They’ve internalized that misconception that by doing what they love they won’t be working, and so when it’s work they’re ready to give up because they feel like the problem is them, like they must not really love writing (marketing/painting/managing/cooking/mothering) enough.

So, to that end, I propose a new quote:

“Love what you do and you’ll work your forking ass off for the rest of your life, but that will be okay.”

Admittedly, it doesn’t roll off the tongue. I’ll work on it.