News Flash: Nick Mamatas Blows Stuff Up and Exposes All B.S. In the Writing World

If you haven’t noticed, Nick Mamatas, whose new, highly recommended book Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horrors of the Writing Life is now out, has been guest blogging at Booklifenow. In fact, he’s not just been guest blogging, he’s been blowing sh*t up.

The fact is, we all need a reality check every now and again. We also need to push back against received ideas and so-called commonsense advice. So here’s Mamatas with a series of Against posts that should shake you up and make you really think about your writing and your career. You may disagree with some of it, but that’s part of defining yourself as a writer, too. He’ll be posting at least one more this coming week.

Some snippets:

Against Professionalism
“Professionalism is a complex of supposedly mandatory and proscribed behaviors that makes a writer “professional” regardless of their ability to write interesting material. Recently, at a science fiction convention I met a former student of mine, and he was very concerned about…his blog. Which he does not have. He was told, however, that today professional writers must all blog, but that these blogs must not offer up controversial political opinions, or negative reviews of popular books, or “ruffle feathers.” Everything must be “politically correct” he believed—to use that famously meaningless term I try so hard to get my students to stop using.”

Against Craft
“Writing is a balance between art and craft, but there is enough suspicion of art—it suggests snobbery, laziness, and even homosexuality in some of the more idiotically conservative quarters—that the stick must be bent in the other direction. Craft is a matter of artisanship, and artisanship is a matter of mastering a relatively small tool kit in order to solve a number of practical problems. These practical problems also allow for aesthetic flourishes to be added. You can thus have a basket with an interesting weave, for example, but you can’t have the weave by itself, without the basket.”

Against Story
“What do people want? ‘A good story.’ How do we know? People can barely say anything else. When editors describe the sort of material they’re looking to acquire, they want “a good story.” Readers are always on the hunt for “a good story.” Good stories are also useful for shutting down a variety of discussions. Are there not enough women being published, or people of color? Who cares who the author is, so long as he or she writes a good story? Can writers do different things with their stories—create new points of view, structure words on the page differently, work to achieve certain effects not easily accessible with more common presentations? Why bother—a good story is the only important thing.”

12 comments on “News Flash: Nick Mamatas Blows Stuff Up and Exposes All B.S. In the Writing World

  1. I was laughing because I saw a post about his book, immediately thought you’d like to see it, and then came here and noticed that it may have been your link in the first place. I got up way to early.

    He does make some strikingly interesting points.

  2. I got a lot out of the first and last posts especially. I didn’t realize how my years in academia had culturally conditioned me to regard “professionalism” and “good work” (a corollary of “good story”) until Nick’s posts pushed up against ideas that I dislike, but that I am still shaking off. I was wondering if I should dress “better” for Readercon this year, for example, and worrying over the plot progression of a story, but Nick’s posts have jostled me, and given me a critical angle for looking at these assumptions again.

  3. Steve Tem says:

    I ordered Nick’s book today & I’m looking forward to reading it. I was fine when “professionalism” simply meant trying to be a bit organized and dependable and (most of all I think) treating people decently. No substitute for talent, but a “nice to have”–it made you more enjoyable to deal with. The fact that for some people it’s now measured in terms of blogs and tweets and being slick and using promotional gimmicks and avoiding taking a stand on anything important is distressing.

  4. Steve Tem says:

    Not that there’s anything wrong with blogs and tweets mind you–it’s just that they’re part of the extras, the accessories of a career, not the substance.

  5. Steve Tem could write a how-to guide several million times better than my own, I swear. Thanks for taking a look at it though, Steve!

  6. Steve Tem says:

    You’re being way too modest, Nick–you always have something interesting to say. And I think it’s crucial that developing writers are exposed to different ideas as to “how it’s supposed to be done.”

  7. jeff vandermeer says:

    I’m with Nick in that I would buy a writing book by Steve Tem in a second.

    Steve, you ought to do it. You’re awesome.

  8. Steve Tem says:

    That’s very very nice of both of you. Melanie and I have talked about it, and have even written up some dialogs on writing, some conversations (we don’t agree on everything, but find those disagreements interesting), more or less based on some dialogs we had while teaching at Odyssey. So it might happen someday–there just always seem to be fiction projects each of us would rather be working on at the moment.

    But this thread is about Nick–I’m interested in reading his book, and I’m sure a lot of others interested in writing will be too.

  9. jeff vandermeer says:

    The disagreements are key, I think. That would be a great book. I am wary of writing books that say there’s one way.

  10. jere7my says:

    I have nothing intelligent to add, but those were three fine essays, and they made me feel less alone. My hat’s off. Thanks, Nick.

  11. Kathe Koja says:

    Love his comments on Art v. Craft. Are you in it to make the angels cry, or what?

  12. Fabio says:

    Interesting and perspective-shaking indeed. I’m not sure if I agree with everything, but I like that – things like “Against Story”, for example, whet my writing appetite. I will definitely buy your book, Nick.

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