I’ve just finally got to speak up about a topic I first noticed popping up online here several years ago, and I’ve seen this topic and this issue and these people I’m about to address become more and more common everywhere I go online, no matter what blogging site or on Twitter or FB, Xanga, Blogger, and WordPress. The topic is the New Internet Writing “Experts.” The thing that once amused me and now irritates the shit out of me is that virtually NONE of them are qualified in any way to pass themselves off as writing experts in any sense of the word — and yet they do. Again, once amusing. Now, pretty much insulting to those of us who have put the blood, sweat, time and tears in, and who have actually accomplished something significant, thereby making US experts…. Yeah, insulting.
I first noticed this trend several years ago on a certain blogging site. An online friend I’d never met IRL had just finished a graduate degree in English and knew for a fact that they were an amazing writer and were naturally, just like every other human being on earth, working on a novel which would, of course, be accepted by an agent and eventually published based on the reality of its immediately recognizable quality due to this person’s substantial writing prowess and gifts. Yep. Never had published a thing ever, but started writing more and more frequently about the art of writing, both poems and fiction. Novels. Amusing. Cute. Darling. Then, however, the blogs started to focus on the art of submitting work to agents, on how to find agents, how to get them to consider if not accept you and your work and ultimately represent you to publishers. Bear in mind this person had never even had an agent respond to one of their increasingly frantic and frustrated queries, let alone request an entire manuscript, let alone agree to represent this person. Never. Having had a damn agent and having had an agent represent me and MY ACTUAL REAL IN REAL LIFE BOOKS THAT GOT PUBLISHED IN REAL LIFE WITH ROYALTIES AND EVERYTHING IN REAL LIFE, I kind of felt like I knew just a tad bit more than this person did and kind of thought that they were being a bit presumptuous, even arrogant, in literally trying to pass themself off as an expert of sorts, never having accomplished what they were advising other people about. It was not a diary about their efforts, mind you. It was honest to God advice from someone who Clearly Knows What They Are Talking About. Uh huh.
I know I’m bordering on sounding very snobbish, but I’m going to get worse, so if you’re getting put off by my tone or attitude now, just move on, cause I’m about to get much worse.
OK, I kept following this person, remaining friendly, but getting increasingly annoyed, as they had no basis whatsoever for passing themself off as an expert in anything regarding publishing. None. However, just two or three years ago, I started seeing a few other people writing similar blogs. To my horror. On how to write novels. On how to write sci fi. On how to write horror. On how to get published. On how to get an agent. On the best publishers to pursue. And not ONE of them had ever had one single book published! Indeed, most — the vast majority — never even had an article, essay, poem, short story, novel excerpt — anything — published at all! That’s not ballsy, that’s galling! Fast forward. Go anywhere on Facebook or Twitter or any blogging site now and you’ll find what I see now every single day, and that is a Twitter feed or a FB fan page dedicated to some “writer” who dispenses wisdom and advice left and right, yet who has NEVER PUBLISHED ANYTHING IN THEIR DAMN LIVES!!! Excuse me, but WTF???
1) What gives these assholes the right to even THINK they can be viewed as experts and should be writing advice blogs, etc.? None of them are even successful at what they’re advising others on! Hell, if they followed their own advice, based on their personal results, they’d never get published and would remain frustrated novelist wannabees, which actually, is exactly the case.
2) Why would anyone listen to a literal non-expert, an anti-expert even, give advice on something they’re totally inexperienced at, a failure at, or have no idea what their talking about in general? The thing that has shocked me is how — and why??? — so many of the people develop large followings!!! I actually intentionally follow one of these people on Twitter. Recent college grad. Knows everything. Working on a novel. Soon to be as successful as Anne Rice of Steven King. Developed a huge following and even a FB fan page. And yet, she has NEVER published a damn thing in her young life!!! WTF???
3) If an aspiring writer were seeking writing and publishing advice, and seriously at that, why on earth would they go to an utter novice, if not a downright failure? Why wouldn’t they seek out experienced, successful veterans for literal, real world advice based on hard work, knowledge and success? I honestly do not understand. Yet I’m apparently in the minority on this, because in my exploring my new blogging world here on WordPress, I was saddened and then irritated to find So.Many.Writers.Giving.Writing/Publishing.Advice.Who’d.Never.Published.Anything.In.Their.Lives! Again, but WTF?
Listen to me people, especially those of you who think I sound an awful lot like some stuck up asshole right about now. I own a car. It needs servicing sometimes. When I go to the garage, I don’t tell the mechanic – who is trained and experienced – how to do his job, nor do I advise him on it. I furthermore don’t go into the waiting lounge and tell everyone else there how to get their cars fixed. Nor do I go online and dispense mechanical advice. I don’t do this because I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, I’ve never done it before, and I leave the expertise to those who are actual experts. I also don’t assume others out there will want to come listen to me or read my advice on mechanics or advice on how to get their cars serviced or fixed, etc., cause I’m not enough of an idiot or asshole to assume I know what I’m talking about when I don’t, and frankly, I probably wouldn’t think too much of anyone who wanted MY input or advice on something I’d never done before! Isn’t that logical? It sure is to me. Ditto lawyers, doctors, stock brokers, etc. I went to law school, did you know that? I HATED it and dropped out before finishing (although I do have three other degrees in other areas). I’m not arrogant enough to sit here and pretend to be a legal expert and dispense legal advice on a blog or on Twitter or to even think about establishing some FB fan page. And if I did do that, it would not only be a disservice to those poor saps listening to me, but an absolute deep sign of disrespect to those actual lawyers out there who busted their asses putting in the time and hard work and competing with each other to actually succeed at their vocation. Doesn’t that make sense??? It does to me.
IMO, the same can and should hold true to writers. I’ve had 15 books published. I’ve had zillions of poems, short stories, essays, articles, etc., etc., published in hundreds of magazines in at least 26 countries and five languages. Because of this, I’m a longtime member of PEN and the Authors Guild, which are discriminating organizations, in that not everyone who writes a poem or manuscript can join or can/will be invited to join. You have to have proven yourself; you have to have accomplished something (ie, having had a book published, at a minimum).
Let me tell you something else. I didn’t go to college, get my English degree, sit down for the summer and type out “x” number of words per day for three months and then declare my novel finished and ready for obvious and immediate publication. Cause that’s not how it works for most anyone in the Real World. (Idiots!) After I got my undergrad degree, I moved from Knoxville TN to Phoenix to become a “writer.” I learned quite quickly, as I was blissfully naive — like so many apparently are — that you have to sell a hell of a lot of poems and stories in order to survive as a writer! Indeed, if you don’t know this, and you should, the vast, vast majority of magazines — especially in America — don’t pay anything! You only get a contributor copy. (I’ve always had good luck with Irish and Australian magazines, in terms of them paying actual money…) So, this became my life, because I was dedicated to my craft. I found a job working at an insurance company. 12 hours a day, six days a week, plus one Sunday a month. Basically 12 hours a day for about 28 days a month. For $5.56 an hour. With my proud new English degree in hand. And it was a recession, so I was frankly glad to have a damn job! I worked my freaking ASS off 12 hours a day, 28 days a month for slave wages, and then I went back to my shithole apartment in the ghetto (cause $5.56/hour doesn’t go far), and I wrote. I wrote for a minimum of two hours per night, and then prepared submissions to magazines and publishers for an additional one hour minimum per night. My goal was 10 finished poems per night, 5 new magazine submissions per night — minimum. And those three hours of my night dedicated to honing my craft, at becoming a writer, at succeeding, at becoming published — those three hours were minimum!!! I can’t tell you how many times I stayed up for many, many hours writing and writing and writing, so that I got perhaps three hours of sleep per night, over and over. Yet during this time, I was writing hundreds of poems, some short stories, a few articles, etc., and I had my work submitted out to well over 100 magazines at any given time, and I kept seriously anal records of my submissions, because I also learned quite quickly how you can get blacklisted if you screw up (ie, send out simultaneous submissions and having the same work appear in two magazines simultaneously — yeah, that’s MAJOR and, yeah, a lot of “writers” don’t bother thinking about that…). So, I worked 12 hour days 28 days a month, and I wrote what was more realistically for about 5+ hours a day, seven days a week, holidays included, and I did this for DECADES!!! Even some years later, when I moved over to L.A. to go to grad school, cause I was sick of living in the ghetto and working for $5.56 an hour, even when I was a full time grad school student paying out of state tuition which required me to work THREE part time jobs of up to 20 hours each (such as tutoring in the writing lab), AND teaching writing classes (plural, not just one per semester) AND doing volunteer work to give myself legitimate resume “fodder” (ie, volunteer copy editing for the local newspaper), AND while I was in the process of getting married and all that entails, AND while I was finding the time and energy to go out partying with my new grad school pals, I STILL committed myself to writing a minimum of three hours a day, seven days a week, always and forever, so that two years later, when I graduated as the top student at the largest university in the state of California, complete with my 4.0 GPA, my scholarships, my grants, my teaching experience, my publishing and newspaper experience, my acceptances into four PhD programs complete with free rides (which I sadly did not take advantage of), I was perhaps most proud of the fact that I had by then had a solid 5 collections of poems published, all due to my busting my freakin ass every single day, about 35 hours a day (or so it seemed), and not taking anything for granted. I busted my freaking ASS! Fast forward. Good work, good job, good pay. Long hard hours. Including one still famous 150+ hour week I put in to win my company a contract resulting in 225,000 new immediate customers in one day! (I slept for one hour/night under my desk.) I just about killed myself doing that, and you know what? All that time (except for that 150 hour week) I put in my three hours of writing — minimum — per day, seven days a week. 10 poems a day, 5 new magazine submissions a day. I’m going to stop now, cause I hope you’re getting the picture. I did this every single day for some 15 straight years, and I have never pretended to be the best poet or writer out there — I know I’m not — but I’ll be damned if anyone was going to outwork me because I was determined to do whatever it took to become as good a writer as possible AND as successful (if publishing is your measuring stick) a writer as possible. So, I’ve put in my dues. And I’ve been very successful. And I know how to get published. I’m a better “getting published” writer than actual writer, if that makes any sense.
So, the question I’ve been asking myself is this. Why in the HELL would anyone, anywhere on earth want to willingly subscribe to blogs or follow tweets by twits passing themselves off as writing “experts” when so many of them have not accomplished a single thing of their own? Why aren’t they seeking successful writers out, like myself (but please don’t — that’s NOT an open invite!) and others who have labored under extreme conditions to achieve the level of expertise and success that they have? I don’t want legal advice from a law school drop out. I don’t want stock market advice from some ponzi schemer. Why do you want writing and publishing advice from a total loser? A failure? A reject? What’s the damn point? Where’s the logic behind that? Frankly, I’m at the point now where I do indeed get extremely insulted when I come across the blogs and websites of these so-called writers who claim to be writers based solely on the fact that they have written a manuscript — unpublished (or, now some of them are “real” writers because they do have books out — self-published on Lulu or other places, places where they haven’t had to compete against others, where they haven’t had to prove themselves and their talent — how convenient…) — where they have the audacity to pass themselves off not only as a writing/publishing “expert” but even as a writer in general. Cause I’d wager that, oh, about 100% of them have NOT put in the efforts I have, or even substantial efforts others have, who ARE successful and who have paid their dues and who do know what the hell they’re talking about! Yeah, it’s insulting to me and to my sacrifices I’ve made for decades, some of which are quite possibility contributing to seriously deteriorating health. I’ve frankly driven myself way too hard for far too long and while I have been successful, I’m now at a point where I’m weighing things in my mind — was it worth it? Was it worth these illnesses, these health “problems,” this quite likely shortened lifespan. And I’ve got to say, most of the time I say yes, it was worth it. And I’m sorry, but I am NOT going to give these fuckers who haven’t done crap in their lives to merit anything at all a free pass to allow them to have the nerve to give writing and publishing advice when I have dedicated and quite possibly even ultimately given my very life for my craft, for my vocation, for my profession, for my passion — not some damn hobby I take up during the fucking summer one year so that I can now say I Know It All and I’ll impart my wisdom to thousands of others. Yeah, it’s insulting. So, if anyone out there reads this and if you are man or woman enough to admit you are guilty of perpetuating this type of fraud, please stop to consider things, and please start to consider maybe putting in just one third of the time and effort I have over my lifetime to pay my freakin’ dues and to achieve success in this field. Please stop turning a cute little summer hobby where you have tortured your fingers by typing (I wrote longhand…) a few hours a day into some appearance of expertise and success. Cause that’s bullshit. If you’re remotely capable of honesty, you’ll admit that and do more actual writing and do less writing ABOUT writing.
I guess that’s my rant for the day.
[This is a modified version of a blog post by the same title I posted June 30, 2011 on my hankrules2011 blog.]
Causes Scott Holstad Supports
PEN, The Authors Guild, Sierra Club