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The Fiction Bitch
September 9, 2004 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Fiction Bitch "The Fiction Bitch doesn't want to encourage new writers. She wants to weed out terrible writers before they go on to bore millions of innocent publishing house interns to tears."
posted by dobbs (48 comments total)

 
Wow. I hope she doesn't get found out and fired for this. Considering that other people who keep blogs have been fired by their employers, she could conceivably catch some grief for this Web site.
posted by alumshubby at 2:19 PM on September 9, 2004


Where have I heard a name like that before.
posted by seanyboy at 2:26 PM on September 9, 2004


before they go on to bore millions of innocent publishing house interns to tears

But that's what publishing house interns are for.
posted by psmealey at 2:58 PM on September 9, 2004


Why would she be fired? She isn't commenting on her job in a specific sense, but using people's image of the publishing industry as a way to focus the website and develop herself as a character. It's not a blog that exposes anything about her job, but uses her job as the angle. employers may disagree, but they'd be wrong.

As for the content, I quite liked her approach to editing. She wasn't merely calling these stories crap, but points out why they are crap. That is exactly what I would want a good editor to do. She rightly points out the failures in logic of "The bird with a broken way" with insight and brevity.

I hope McSweeney's hires her to edit Egger's next novel.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:02 PM on September 9, 2004


I love the format of the stories after she's done with them, making title tags out of sections of it. I was just writing about the possibilities of digital marginalia, and this seems like such a stylish answer to it, really.

Fun to read, too. Gotta love a bitchy editor (when she's not yours).
posted by Hildegarde at 3:09 PM on September 9, 2004


And here I thought that the nepotism-ridden schmoozefest that is the publishing industry was already doing enough to discourage new writers.
posted by transona5 at 3:13 PM on September 9, 2004


"The Bird with a Broken Wing"
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:27 PM on September 9, 2004


Hmm, reminds me of a creative writing teacher I had who didn't like anyone's writing but his own.

And I wouldn't be discouraged by her shredding one of my stories, I'd just think she was a bitch and move on.
posted by fenriq at 3:29 PM on September 9, 2004


I could really do without the bitchiness, but after a look through her archives, she offers a lot of advice that would be useful for beginning writers. When she does like something, which she occasionally does, she's quite helpful. I like this:

An excellent exercise for writers who tend to try too hard and overwork their prose is to write something they would never show to someone else. If you are having trouble thinking of something that fits this description, try writing about something that would normally embarrass you, like a sexual fantasy, a fan fiction for your favorite TV show, deliberately writing a "bad" story, or an anecdote about a humiliating event in your past. Relax, and allow yourself to write whatever you want. Once you give yourself permission to not be clever, but to simply have fun with your writing, you regain your sense of play, and life returns to your writing. Try it; you may be surprised by the results.
posted by Prospero at 4:38 PM on September 9, 2004


There are millions of publishing house interns?

Who knew? [/sarcasm]

Seems likelier that Fiction Bitch may not be a very good writer herself.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:39 PM on September 9, 2004


FB is from the Asian Bastard family of sites.
posted by Dome-O-Rama at 4:59 PM on September 9, 2004


elwoodwiles, I assume that question is entirely rhetorical. In a perfect world, nothing short of outright libel should result in a blogger getting in any kind of trouble -- but that's not the way the world works. If this became an in-joke among employees at her publishing house -- well, you complete the scenario.
posted by alumshubby at 5:10 PM on September 9, 2004


Having spent four years being nice about shite stories, I find this approach like a breath of fresh air in a fart-smelling lift. It's weirdly inspiring, in a way. She might be mean, but these writers deserve it, and anyway, she actually explains why stuff doesn't work, which is more than can be said for Simon Cowell. I'm all for giving crap writers a big slap upside their peasy-ass flouncy heads.
posted by RokkitNite at 5:21 PM on September 9, 2004


Well, sometimes when Simon's feeling expansive (rarely enough) he'll explain what's wrong with somebody's act, except that there generally it's just that they can't sing worth a damn. Writing is more complex, and this woman actually is providing a valuable service -- she's cheaper than what I paid for three credit hours' worth of tuition and fees in a creative writing class (albeit she does not do poetry, worse luck).

I've met at least a couple of technical editors who cheerfully concede that they can't do what the technical writers do -- only help them to do it better. I imagine it's much the same way with fiction writing: Just because you don't create doesn't mean you can't knowledgeably critique.
posted by alumshubby at 5:37 PM on September 9, 2004


hey
posted by Satapher at 5:45 PM on September 9, 2004


If you suspect you are a lousy writer, the Fiction Bitch can remove all doubts, thus freeing you for other, more productive pursuits.

Ha. Yeah, and I'm sure it's nice work, if you can get it. But what ever happened to "practice makes perfect?" Good writers do not emerge from the womb already typing 80WPM and pre-equipped with graceful style and peircing insight. Every last elitist one of you that feels that writers are born and not made can go straight to the literary cookie-cutter hell of your own choosing, where all "writing" is "good," but many sensitive, compelling works have been lost to the razor.

This is just unhelpful, nasty nit-picking at its worst, and improvement only in the negative sense. Not all artistic endeavors come from what you take away.

(Full disclosure: I'm almost certainly a "lousy writer.")
posted by SteelyDuran at 5:47 PM on September 9, 2004


> She might be mean, but these writers deserve it

Ugh. I'm speechless.

Good thing I'm not a writer!
posted by SteelyDuran at 5:56 PM on September 9, 2004


It might be an interesting exercise to try sneaking in some excerpts of lesser-known works by successful and respected authors -- just to see if Her Bitchiness catches on. I'm thinking of unloading some Theodore Dreiser on her for starters.
posted by alumshubby at 6:05 PM on September 9, 2004


The thing is, reading through the archives, she's actually quite helpful on pieces that have worthwhile elements. She offers a lot of strong constructive criticism, and she is encouraging where it's merited. I think it's a great site, myself- she's not randomly choosing stories she just found on the Internet- the authors have to submit their work, and presumably, they know what they're getting into. I'm seriously tempted to send her my first novel; it definitely needs tightening but I'm too close to the project to really see where.
posted by headspace at 6:11 PM on September 9, 2004


This is totally awesome. The absolute best feedback you can get about your writing is honest feedback about how your story hits an unbiased audience by a reader who can identify why she feels the way she does. Not many people can give that sort of feedback, and those who can tend to demand payment for the service. I'll submit an old short story of mine to her, in fact, if I can find it. (Unfortunately, an old incident involving a hard drive makes that unlikely.)
posted by jacobm at 6:20 PM on September 9, 2004


It would be wonderful and a great pleasure to read her comments on Dan Brown. The first paragraph of the feature story she comments on is not unlike the whole of his novels.

I wonder how Toole's work would have gone over, particularly A Confederacy of Dunces.

I've just completed a short-story that I think is complete nonsense, perhaps I, like others in the thread, should try for confirmation and look to improve.

Also, Faze needs to submit all of his posts on Metafilter to take the first steps in being recognized for the master of absurdist blogature that he is.

Awesome link, awesome site. Much appreciated.
posted by juiceCake at 6:22 PM on September 9, 2004


I did a short stint in editing. It's damn hard to give each and every thing that crosses your desk a close reading, particularly at the end of a long day. When I finished, I would head straight to a bar and lampoon the day's worst submissions. Sure this was mean (I was really more of a fiction psychopath than a fiction bitch), but I was genuinely embarrassed for the authors, and I needed to let off steam.

Most people just glaze over when they are reading something that doesn't really grab their interest. It's damn hard to get an honest analysis and constructive advice. While she may be harsh, Fiction Bitch is being pretty generous with her time, and she's providing a service that is much more valuable than "it's really nice, good effort, have you thought about trying something other than a fable?."

Three cheers for Fiction Bitch, and thanks for a great post.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:54 PM on September 9, 2004


> honest feedback about how your story hits an unbiased audience

Don't kid yourself; she cannot provide that, nor can any member of the publishing industry. You can verify this empirically: observe that the shelves of bookstores are saturated with pointless dreck -- despite the assumption that publishers are working tirelessly to curate streams of "good" "writing." Meanwhile, to satisty their conception of the commoner tastes, presumably many striking works are binned. Why perpetuate this situation? Why lose another decade?

I refuse to let a self-proclaimed bitch speak on my behalf as a reader.
posted by SteelyDuran at 7:14 PM on September 9, 2004


She culls the dreck well: telling versus showing, cliches, confusion. This site brings back my desire to build a site for a community workshop with inline commenting, much like her site. Great post, dobbs.
posted by pedantic at 8:34 PM on September 9, 2004


Good point. How do you explain Dan Brown or those horrible "created by Tom Clancy" (tsshyeahright) Op-Center novels getting past editors? And speaking of TC, it seems like each new novel is more poorly edited than the previous one.

On review:

a community-workshop site? Is that like getting gang-edited?
posted by alumshubby at 8:36 PM on September 9, 2004


Yeah, and you're not required to make a series.
posted by pedantic at 9:12 PM on September 9, 2004


At least the "created by Tom Clancy" stuff is proven to appeal to a particular audience. But I don't see how publishers can consistently greenlight projects by insiders and children of the famous (Kristin Gore, anyone?) and then complain about these plebeian amateurs, who probably have never even been to a Conde Nast party, with the audacity to think that their dreck could possibly compete with the quality of the stuff that the gatekeepers of culture allow to pass.

Not that I don't think there's some value to what she's doing. When a lot of publishers don't even bother to send rejection letters, any feedback is better than nothing.
posted by transona5 at 9:29 PM on September 9, 2004


I found it very pithy, but she isn't quite as bitchy as the intro suggests. Her archived work is very interesting and helpful.

Not that I'd want to submit my own work, but one can learn by example.
posted by somethingotherthan at 10:04 PM on September 9, 2004


I think she's great, I've been reading over there for - a year or so now? I think she tells it like it is. However, no one should ever take the opinion of just ONE person on anything.
posted by erratic frog at 10:24 PM on September 9, 2004


Which suggests a question...does anybody else do this online?
posted by alumshubby at 10:53 PM on September 9, 2004


Last time I checked, Zoetrope had bustling workshops.
posted by muckster at 11:22 PM on September 9, 2004


> I think she tells it like it is.

She says that good writers are born, and that isn't how it is -- that's a despicable lie.

There is no writer gene. That's just a statement sent down from the ivory tower to satisfy the writers who want to be mortified because they see the need for some shamanic death-of-the-self ritual to get the ball rolling. There's plenty of better ways to light a fire under your own arse than having some bitter has-been -- however experienced -- set fire to your first kindling. Burn it yourself. It's your kindling and your matches and your life. Be your own bitch.

I am trying to avoid conflating good writing (whatever that might mean) with material intended to be published. I see the two as at odds for reasons I've already covered here. So the bad news is that if you follow your heart and carve out your own style niche, you might not end up across the aisle from your contemporaries at Borders; the good news is that at that point, your contemporaries are no longer your peers. The worst news is that you'll be alone on your journey, and many may find you frustrating -- or maybe not; but the greatest news is that if you get that far, you've got real guts. You've got a fire that won't go out or be blown out. It's your fire and your journey and your life.

Just make sure it's really yours, and not merely on loan from a contemporary.
posted by SteelyDuran at 11:30 PM on September 9, 2004


muckster, I dunno about Zoe. I posted a screenplay there once (one that had placed in the Quarterfinals of the most respected screenwriting contest in the world) and was called out by multiple people as a pornographer, misogynist, and paedophile. (The latter is kind of baffling as there were no children in my screenplay.) I haven't been back there in about 6 months but it seemed to me that the place was overrun by close-minded wannabes who would rather whine than write.

This is bar far the most posts any of my FPPs have garnared. Thanks, all!
posted by dobbs at 11:42 PM on September 9, 2004


erm, garnered.
posted by dobbs at 11:43 PM on September 9, 2004


> This is [by] far the most posts any of my FPPs have [garnered].

Great FPP, dobbs. As much as I disagree with some of her viewpoints on writing, I'm glad she provides the advice she does. She really got me thinking about writing -- not just the "how" but the "why." So her site has had a positive effect on me, although maybe not the way she intended.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by SteelyDuran at 12:04 AM on September 10, 2004


She can't write. Her "insights" are platitudinous. I hate her site.

e.g Fables are a kind of poetry, and it is important to set a scene for the reader that is evocative of emotion and the struggle faced by the hero.

What does this mean? The sentence is poorly constructed, the meaning unclear and the language wooly (i.e. the use of 'kind of').

Yes, this is one example culled from the front page, but I can find many more.
posted by johnny novak at 1:26 AM on September 10, 2004


There's an idea growing in our culture that says that anyone's attempts to be "creative" should be encouraged, regardless of their worth, just like in kindergarden. Honest, useful criticism is harder and harder to come by.
posted by fuzz at 3:51 AM on September 10, 2004


> There's an idea growing in our culture that says that anyone's attempts to be "creative" should be encouraged, regardless of their worth, just like in kindergarden.

Don't you agree with this notion?
posted by SteelyDuran at 4:26 AM on September 10, 2004


steelyduran ... on the one hand, i think she gives some fairly good advice concerning the pieces she's editing ... on the other hand, i feel that the end result of the kind of writing and editing she favors is a homogenized blandness and distance from the story ... competent and utterly minor

i think your advice for people who want more than just being published is excellent ... thanks for saying it
posted by pyramid termite at 4:54 AM on September 10, 2004


This could be one of the worst stories I've ever read.

Great post!
posted by SisterHavana at 5:03 AM on September 10, 2004


i feel that the end result of the kind of writing and editing she favors is a homogenized blandness and distance from the story ... competent and utterly minor

The one complaint I'd have about her editing (and the reason why, as I said above, I think her advice would be primarily good for beginning writers) is that she doesn't seem to believe that many writing rules are made to be broken. For all her railing against Creative Writing 101, there's a certain CW101 feel to her recommendations--for example, she says in one of her analyses that writing in the present tense is usually a bad decision, a statement with which John Updike and Thomas Pynchon would beg to differ.
posted by Prospero at 5:46 AM on September 10, 2004


'she doesn't seem to believe that many writing rules are made to be broken'

If you're teaching a kid piano, you start on Three Blind Mice, not modern freestyle jazz. Most of these writers lack a basic grasp of the most rudimentary rules of composition - she's just trying to drag them out of the mire of total incompetence. I don't care how blindingly original a story is - without solid technique, it's going to be a strain to read.
posted by RokkitNite at 7:29 AM on September 10, 2004


Which is why, as I said above, I think her advice would be primarily good for beginning writers.
posted by Prospero at 7:41 AM on September 10, 2004


Creative writing Nazi. Just like High School.
Mrs. Mike Kimmery would be proud.
posted by jmccorm at 8:19 AM on September 10, 2004


There's an idea growing in our culture that says that anyone's attempts to be "creative" should be encouraged, regardless of their worth, just like in kindergarden.

Don't you agree with this notion?


No.

And it isn't elitist to say good writers are born. For every task and job in this world, there is some part of being good that is just talent. Talent is never enough, but without it, you're sunk.

Take gardening or being a salesperson. I will never be really good at those things. I just do not posess the necessary traits, the talent. With hard work, I might end up being competent, but the spark that makes one good will never be there. I'm okay with that, mostly, I suspect, because no one ever told me that gardening was some transcendental form of self-expression. People think writing is, and therefore they are entitled to write: how can you deny someone the right to express herself?

In anything you write for other people to see, self-expression is the least of it. The sooner people figure that out, the fewer crappy manuscripts will be floating about begging to be published, and the happier we all will be.
posted by dame at 8:38 AM on September 10, 2004


And, really, some people will never be competent writers, however much effort they they throw at it. I think sometimes it comes down to a deep cognitive problem. In a recent Making Light thread, Slushkiller, Teresa Nielsen Hayden (herself an editor) pointed out how it works:

"People who can't do advanced math, or play classical piano concertos, or pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues, generally know they can't do it. People who don't have an intimate relationship with language are far less aware of their condition, and for them the written world can be a very frustrating place. Near as we can make out, they literally can't tell that their rejected writing isn't like the writing that does get published."

From long and irritating experience of writers' groups, I've come to the conclusion there's nothing you can do for people with that problem. You critique a work, and they'll come back next week with another one with exactly the same kind of faults.
posted by raygirvan at 9:50 AM on September 10, 2004


Meanwhile, to satisty their conception of the commoner tastes, presumably many striking works are binned.

I believe that to be an erroneous presumption. I don't think there's enough good work to go around, period, and most of what's good does work its way to a publisher somewhere. Now, whether or not the readers hear about all the good literature is a different story.

Another two cents: I don't believe untutored genius arrives in the form of a writer more than a couple of times a century. Most great writers are just hard workers with excellent editors.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:10 AM on September 10, 2004


In a recent Making Light thread, Slushkiller, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Slushkiller (shudder). Fiction Bitch is only about a hundredth as presumptuous and smug as her, I'll give her that.

"People who can't do advanced math, or play classical piano concertos, or pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues, generally know they can't do it."

Yeah - because research-level mathematics, classical music and baseball are more or less meritocracies. The Journal of the American Mathematical Association isn't going to publish you because you're Gauss' son or Euler's personal assistant.
posted by transona5 at 1:30 PM on September 10, 2004


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