You’re a Horrible Writer

JERmingway

As a young writer, I operated strictly as a poet and novelist. I had a Howard Roark-type complex about my art and thought I was Homer’s gift to writing. In some ways I miss that uncompromising little shit; in other ways, I’m glad that part of me is dead. I still retain a certain disdain for journalism and blogging—but now I’m running an online publication myself. Now I find compromise is necessary, to an extent.

Yes, things are changing fast in the writing world and not necessarily for the better, but as the founder of one online publication, the editor for another, and writer of many other things, I can tell you quality is still king in any format. But you knew that didn’t you? Well your writing doesn’t say so. All I can do is offer some tough-loving (often contradicting) tips on how to be a tolerable writer, sometimes, and make your form a little more acceptable.

First off, I hate you.

You’re the enemy and I’m a self-righteous pseudo-intellectual fuck. If you’re not competitive about writing then you’ve already lost, or just don’t take it seriously enough to make a living doing it. I really don’t give a shit about your dream journal. Good, now we can be friends. When I give you tips, I probably don’t think you’re a threat. If I read your writing, I’m learning your form, gathering intelligence, or just measuring you up. It’s a pissing contest.

Admit it, deep down you think you’re the greatest writer on the face of the planet. You need to have confidence, but not so much that you become the delusional asshole that writes 50 Shades of Grey and thinks it can get published. Fuck me.

Everything you write is a small stepping stone towards something mediocre.

Hate your writing.

Not everything you write is worthy of seeing the light of day. Actually, a lot of what you write doesn’t need to see the light of day. Remember that everything you write is a small stepping stone towards something mediocre. I wrote a novel and a collection of short stories and poetry that deserve to be mockingly read by Carrot Top. You want to make a film out of your “it was actually a dream the whole time” script? No. Put that shit in the black folder—good writing exercise, man. Just accept it as that, and maybe you can pull lines from it for something better. And for god’s sake take down your Blogspot, WordPress or travel blog, because, trust me, we make fun of you. A lot. Unless you’re a good writer. Just know you’re putting it out there to be judged.

Respect the language.

Don’t you dare call yourself a writer if you can’t respect basic rules of grammar, spelling, diction and syntax (actually don’t call yourself a writer until you make a living doing it because we make fun of those people too). I don’t give a fuck if you’re trying to be cool, or contemporary, or stylish, or finding your own Jack-off-hipster-Kerouac voice, if you put trash like wanna, gonna, lol or omg in it, I’m going to completely lose respect for your piece and overall validity as an author. This isn’t a conversation with an Appalachian moonshiner, this is writing. If you want others to take your writing seriously then you need to take it seriously. Don’t be lazy. The rules of grammar apply wherever you are. I have some wiggle room with blogs, I suppose, but not much. You can bend the rules of grammar and style when you’re Faulkner, or me.

Read. No shit.

But when I say “read,” I don’t mean that fluff-beach-novel-young-adult-fiction Chuck Palahniuck crap. Don’t reread Harry Potter. Don’t just read blogs, articles or the ingredients list on your gluten-free yuppie food. I mean Literature, with a capital L. Something intellectually stimulating, something that is a challenge to read, something that has a style to the language, something that makes you better for having read it. Having a good literary base only helps you in every facet of your intellectual career, and life in general. This is the easiest, most enriching thing you can do as a writer. Don’t know where to start? Start with Homer, Hamlet, the classics, then read a single piece of Keats’ poetry for a week straight over and over again. Then read all 100 of these, and burn your self-help books immediately.

Write in a different way.

Pun intended. Get off that life-draining computer, and use a pen and paper. But don’t be that asshole at a coffee shop with a typewriter. I handwrite most of my stuff, even screenplays; it has benefited me tremendously because my ideas and language become more free-flowing and not controlled by the government. The down-side with a slight up-side: You’ll have to transcribe all of your work to a computer eventually anyway (unless you’re transcribing it for your travel blog, then don’t worry about it), and this is a great opportunity for heavy revision. Also, don’t be restricted by some salty asshole who distilled “the myths”; abiding by anyone’s rules of writing, including mine, makes you creatively inadequate later in life. I will literally dick-punch the next writer to mention Joseph Campbell. Certainly know the template, know your form, but don’t follow it like a fucking playbook. If you feel like writing a scene that doesn’t happen for another three acts, write it. Also this last bit of advice is only applicable if you respect the language.

As in any other craft, just because people are producing mass amounts of shit doesn’t mean you should too. This is especially true given how much material is out there. Don’t just say, “Oh I can do that.” Because any asshole can produce the forgettable rank inhabiting the web. Create something infallible. At this point, I hope you’re pissed off enough at me to go out there and write something worth a damn.

Photo by Josh Stuyvesant.

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6 Comments

  1. Omg, I wanna leave a comment about how much i luv this peace, but you’ll prolly just make fun of it! gooD writing tho!

  2. PS, I found a typo on the homepage of yr online publication! Not that I judged it or laffed or NEthing!

    “Calling all artist, We at JAK Media….”

    (pps, I really did like this piece.)

  3. Whoa.

    I love you guys at Pyragraph. I comment often because I want to encourage you. Making a living in the arts is no small accomplishment, and writing eloquently about it is all the better.

    I was going to write next:

    “Then something like this comes along. Good points, but haranguing others about their poor-quality writing in a post filled with misspellings and punctuation errors, in particular the most instances of incorrect hyphenation I’ve ever seen in one document. (For example, it’s WordPress, not word press, and yes, I have two sites there and no, I will not take them down for you whether you make fun of them or not.)”

    And then I read the version of the post that’s on this page, as opposed to the one that showed up in my email, and I saw that a great many of the errors had been fixed. So I suppose somebody already told Mr. Kinter pretty much what I was going to say.

    “You can bend the rules of grammar and style when you’re Faulkner, or me.” Or when you have a good copyeditor to clean up after you and keep you honest. Which most, if not all, writers could use– another pair of eyes to check details, and to tell us if we’re sounding like supercilious jerks rather than being clever and amusing.

    By the way, perhaps I’m a bit old-fashioned in this regard, but I still like to see nouns other than “shit” and adjectives other than “fucking.” Those words have lost most of their impact through overuse, and so far we haven’t found anything stronger to replace them. They don’t do much for a piece of writing these days except to add ugliness. If quality is still king, why not use a quality vocabulary?

    So yeah, Mr. Kinter, I was pissed off at you when I read this. Just not for the reason you expected. If you’re going to rant about quality writing, give us quality writing. “Don’t be lazy.”

  4. I like this piece and think Jeremy’s tongue-in-cheek tone should take him out of your cross-hairs a bit. But the main reason I’m piping in is to let you know that a not-finished version was published (AND sent out via email and social media) due to some problems we’ve been having with our server which periodically gets confused about what time it is, and publishes posts prematurely. It has been very vexing and we have tried to resolve it with our host, but the problem persists. The same thing happened to me last night as I was finalizing the Fin Records piece…I tried to save my work (I wasn’t done with my copyedit/proof) and dangit it went live. So bear with us while we troubleshoot. Another day, another technical issue! Thanks for commenting Elene.

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