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Portrait of the young writer as a literary sponge
May 15, 2010 8:00 AM   Subscribe

The 10 Most Harmful Novels for Aspiring Writers
posted by Artw (144 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
really....

I love the fact that the first one he lists, he admits he never finished reading...
posted by HuronBob at 8:07 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Luckily I'm not an aspiring writer, and thus am free to enjoy Blood Meridian. Well, maybe not enjoy....
posted by Scoo at 8:08 AM on May 15, 2010


Chandler wrote entirely too well, stacking up bizarre similes and metaphors like so many poker chips in a high-stakes game of roulette in some lost casino of the soul.

That is wonderful. I'd hasten to add just about the entire literary output of Hunter S. Thompson and David Foster Wallace. Good works but holy god if I see one more emulation of their style I'm switching over to Reader's Digest and Harlequin NASCAR romance novels for good.
posted by griphus at 8:11 AM on May 15, 2010 [9 favorites]


Did this fucking guy just dis Blood Meridian? Man, fuck this guy!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:12 AM on May 15, 2010 [10 favorites]


Have to agree with the commenter that HST is an attractive and dangerous pitfall if you want to be young and edgy. And who doesn't? Would also throw Catch-22 on the list. And maybe J.K. O'Toole. Some things seem so excellent and complicated and natural and funny it makes you feel like wildly amusing novels should just fall out of you onto the paper, or screen, or whatever.

But they don't.

And it seems some of the comments there thought the list was a critique of the works, or the writers*.....I LOVE HST, Catch-22, and almost everything on this list. Everyone should read them. But not emulate them. They are dangerous to unformed, impressionable young writers in search of identity.





* OK, he did diss Blood Meridian, which made me snitty. But I understand that there are people for whom a bunch of violence absolutely renders good writing (or cinema) invisible.
posted by umberto at 8:14 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."
- the less harmful Kurt Vonnegut
posted by hal9k at 8:14 AM on May 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


Ulysses by James Joyce is one novel that all aspiring novelists should avoid imitating at all costs don't think for a second that just because he wrote one immortal stream of consciousness soliloquy that was one whole chapter of Molly Bloom's reflections without a stitch of punctuation and made it work that you can do it too because you can't unless you're James Joyce and you're not no
posted by Uncle Chaos at 8:16 AM on May 15, 2010 [9 favorites]


Yeah, that guy. Avoid him, too.

* * *

And so on...
posted by umberto at 8:17 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

This hand-embroidered depiction of rape and slaughter is all too typical of current "literature." The more metaphors and similes you can throw in where they don't belong, the more the critics praise you. The effect is like eating a nice firm dog turd garnished with whipped cream and a cherry on top, served on a fine porcelain plate with a silver spoon.



Hahahaha, what a fucking idiot.
posted by nola at 8:17 AM on May 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


Seriously, though, fuck this guy. It's one thing to point to books and say, "Hey, this worked for X, but it is unbelievably stupid to think that this will work for you." It's probably, in general, a bad idea to attempt to emulate Cormac McCarthy's style, because it's distinctive enough that you will be seen as a Cormac McCarthy imitator, and also because it would be almost impossible to make work even if that weren't a risk. It's a bad idea to emulate Ayn Rand or Jack Kerouac, in my view, because I don't have the first idea what ever made these writers appealing to anybody and their success was surely some kind of cosmic joke, but...but...Cormac McCarthy? Is this guy for real? I'd love to see his list of ten unironically awesome novels, providing he could produce one.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:18 AM on May 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


Some novels are good but dangerous because they leave us dumbfounded. After Ulysses, what more can we say about the mythic echoes in modern life?

lol wut
posted by Greg Nog at 8:18 AM on May 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


Atlas Shrugged is mostly dangerous in the hands of politicians and economists.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:20 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Dangerous Typist.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:22 AM on May 15, 2010


Call me naive, but I am of the steadfast opinion that even the most Important and Powerful individual adherent to Rand's Objectivism has little more global impact and responsibility than booking speakers for the Ayn Rand Institute.
posted by griphus at 8:24 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Case in point, one Mr. Hunter S. Thompson, who is the kinghell Kong-sized avatar perched on the sagging shoulders of just about every Blogger who ever lived who wishes he could bang out the next Fear & Loathing in a wild Turkey-induced haze while pounding away on a huge, lightning quick 5000 watt Selectric as the surf pounds just outside the Seal Rock Inn's windows while the blazing sun sets on the depravity that is the dying American Empire out on the edge of the Avenues.....

At least the commenters are having fun with it.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:26 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Atlas Shrugged is mostly dangerous in the hands of politicians and economists.

I would like to disagree by citing a personal example -- I tried to read Atlas Shrugged in eleventh grade and remain convinced that it weakened my immune system to the point where I succumbed to illness and actually missed about a week of school. I don't know for SURE that it was Ayn Rand's fault, but my mother did make me stop reading it because she was convinced that Ayn Rand's relentless assault on me was making me physically sick; it's possible she got this idea from my constant complaining and expressions of angst and turmoil.

With this in mind, I would posit that Atlas Shrugged is also dangerous in the hands of those who wish to propagate biological warfare and make sure we're all worn down enough to cave.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:26 AM on May 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


Rather sloppy article. It positions itself as a warning for young writers but reads, often as not, as litany of his own mistakes. That said, there's some good choices in there. Nobody should try to write like Tolkien ever again. We already know all we need to about elves + hobbits. Likewise, if you're going to write adolescent angst, you gotta give us more than just the pure voice (as Salinger did with Holden Caulfield), you've gotta actually tell an interesting story where something happens. As for On The Road, if you're going to just type, you better have some genuinely interesting experiences to type about (as Kerouac did, as most of us sadly don't). And Blood Meridian, I loved it at the time but " ... the effect is like eating a nice firm dog turd garnished with whipped cream and a cherry on top, served on a fine porcelain plate with a silver spoon." That's a hell of a line.

Finally, a couple of writers I personally stumbled upon at precisely the wrong point in my development: John Irving (The World According To Garp in particular) and Kurt Vonnegut in general. Both have a way of forcing a rather dubious narrative into form by sheer force of style. At least, they think they do. Vonnegut mostly pulls it off but I can't even look at an Irving title these days without feeling a gush of regret for wasted, wasted, wasted hours (and pages).
posted by philip-random at 8:27 AM on May 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm suprised to see Charles Bukowski not get a mention. He seems to be the go to influence for awful writers these days. Also I'm suprised we don't see more bad Palahniuk clones than we do, but I suppose most of them just hang around on the web posturing rather than actually getting anything published.
posted by Artw at 8:28 AM on May 15, 2010 [15 favorites]


This is interesting, because I was considering the exact opposite of this as an AskMe thread. Specifically, if you're not a great writer and you'd want to shamelessly copy a few great writers, who would be a good person to rip off? I mean this specifically as in, who is a solid, unpretentious writer, who even you fail to mimic, will at least teach you how to write in an inoffensive way.

Obviously you wouldn't want to try to sound like Faulkner, Borges, or Hunter S. Thompson, because it would be terrible if done badly. But who is a down to earth writer who hits all the fundamentals without any terrible or potentially irritating affectations?

A novice boxer wouldn't do very well by copying Muhammad Ali and an amateur writer probably shouldn't try to start off by writing the next Ulysses or Gravity's Rainbow. I find dialogue especially difficult to do fluidly, who handles dialogue in an elegant, unobtrusive way?

(Also, why are people always shitting on Cormac McCarthy? You know it's possible that some people just really enjoy his books. It's not just a critical acclaim thing. I'd rather read Blood Meridian a thousand times than try to slog through another Don Delillo book.)
posted by Telf at 8:28 AM on May 15, 2010


I understand that there are people for whom a bunch of violence absolutely renders good writing (or cinema) invisible.

Or, in the case of DFW, a bunch of typing.
posted by DU at 8:29 AM on May 15, 2010


While I'd agree with him that Chandler is overrated, his knowledge of crime fiction is faulty. He ignores the great authors, like Thompson, who followed James Cain instead of Chandler. And this sentence:

Not until Elmore Leonard would crime fiction finally free itself of Chandler's self-conscious style.


is a little strange. Has there ever been a more self-conscious writer than Elmore Leonard?

Anyway, the whole list is poppycock. Any influential artist with a distinct style is going to inspire legions of followers who ape the style but not the substance. See: ee cummings, Alan Moore, Jimi Hendrix, David Mamet, Quentin Tarrintino, Frank Frazetta, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, Lee Perry, The Ramones, Stephen King, Elvis, etc. They've all inspired shitty artists. Shitty artists are shitty.

It's healthy for a young artist to do some style-stealing. (If I ever meet James Ellroy I will blush). When you learn to ape a dozen authors at the same time: voila! You now have your own style and voice. Look forward to someone stealing your style in the future.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:32 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Bad artists copy. Great artists are remembered for pithy off-handed remarks they made to confuse their biographer." - Pablo Picasso
posted by griphus at 8:37 AM on May 15, 2010 [13 favorites]


This is dumb dumb dumb. There are books that people get into and most people aren't going to be good enough at writing to be anything bettter than a little embarrassing.Take these two things together and it is easy to conjure a because. Because you are too much like Chandler you aren't good. Nope, that's not how it works, the order of operations is wrong. It is because you are a bad writer that it is so much like Chandler but a bad version of Chandler and if it was good but like Chandler no one would mind.
posted by I Foody at 8:39 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


but...but...Cormac McCarthy? Is this guy for real?

Needless to say, we've discussed Mr.McCarthy before here on the blue. The man's a force, no question. But as Batman would say, a force for good or for evil?

Or more to the point, maybe he's just too on top of his craft to be any good to aspiring writers. Kind of like all those bands you hear who wish they were Led Zeppelin and think they can shortcut there by ripping off their tricks, whereas Led Zeppelin never did tricks, they just loved pretty much ALL music from the weirdest old British Isles folk to deeply experimental 20th Century classical to The Blues to James Brown funk to you-name-it ... and somehow managed to forge it together into a singular sound that felt absolutely natural.

The moral of the story. If you want to do genius work, give it absolutely everything you've got (and then some); not that there's any guarantee of success. In fact, the odds are pretty dismal. But what else are you gonna do with all your spare time? Watch Seinfeld? Read Ayn Rand?
posted by philip-random at 8:42 AM on May 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


I find dialogue especially difficult to do fluidly, who handles dialogue in an elegant, unobtrusive way?

Elmore Leonard. But I doubt he figured it out by aping other writers. I think it had more to do with hanging out with other humans, engaging with them, LISTENING to them ... and then putting in an absurd amount of time getting it right.
posted by philip-random at 8:44 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


With very few exceptions, unless I've heard you and am familiar with your work, I don't care what you have to say about writing—and doubly for style.

I have not heard of Crawford Killian. The first few hits on Google indicate that he makes a living telling other people how to write; and that's fine, except most of the people in that subset haven't written anything worthwhile themselves. There are certainly exceptions to "Those who can't do, teach," but it survives as an adage because it's often true. There is a good reason that speeches are preceded by introducing the speaker and his accomplishments: Before troubling ourselves with listening to a person's supposed insight or advice, it is useful to know why we should care.
posted by cribcage at 8:44 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I was expecting this to be one of two kinds of lists: either an acknowledgment that these are good writers who should not be emulated (which would be good) or a list of actually terrible but horribly popular writers whose work is developing a legion of imitative amateur writers (which would also be a good list, and would include people like Stephanie Myers.)

but no, I find a list of a guy saying Jack Kerouac, Cormac McCarthy, Salinger, Hemingway and Tolkien are bad writers. Oooooooookay dude. You're so interesting because you don't like popular established masters of their craft. We're all listening, dude, because you are fascinating us with your unexpected against-the-grain-ness. Go on. Please illuminate our darkened culture.
posted by shmegegge at 8:47 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Came here to hate on Ayn Rand. Was not disappointed. A+++
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:48 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Came here to hate on Ayn Rand. Was not disappointed. A+++

Well it's not like it's difficult.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:53 AM on May 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


I have not heard of Crawford Killian.

Anyone who makes a point of dissing Ayn Rand can't be all bad.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:55 AM on May 15, 2010


Listen, kid. I know you got big dreams. I know you've got a list of favorite books and authors a mile long, books and authors that have blown your mind and expanded your horizons and changed your life, blah blah blah.

But wake up, kid. You're never gonna be them. You're never gonna be a Hunter Thompson or a Cormac McCarthy or a Dave Wallace. Those guys leapt from the womb with fully-formed authorial voices and Big Things to say—and you can bet your sweet ass they never tried to imitate their favorite authors as part of some painstaking and frequently embarrassing process of gradual improvement. They were just born that way, like all great artists everywhere.

Imitation as part of the refinement of one's craft? It's a sucker's game, kid. Just give up. You got nothing to say, and nobody's listening.

What? What have I written, you wanna know? Shit, kid. I know better than to try. Trying's for chumps.
posted by pts at 8:57 AM on May 15, 2010 [31 favorites]


I have not heard of Crawford Killian. The first few hits on Google indicate that he makes a living telling other people how to write

Thou must read the byline.

It has just occurred to me that I was once one of those people he told how to write, almost exactly three decades ago. A very kind and encouraging man who had published a few sci-fi novels at the time (I think). No, I can't think a single thing I learned from the guy.
posted by philip-random at 9:00 AM on May 15, 2010


Lolita can do unfortunate things to the word patterns of enamored young writers.
posted by The Whelk at 9:04 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Likewise, if you're going to write adolescent angst, you gotta give us more than just the pure voice (as Salinger did with Holden Caulfield), you've gotta actually tell an interesting story where something happens.

I dunno; I think that John Darnielle's recent book "Master of Reality", which is basically an angsty kid talking about how much he loves Sabbath, blows Catcher in the Rye right the fuck out of the water. Along similar lines, I bristled like FUCK at the notion that Ulysses says all we really needed about the intersection of myth and modernity because, for as much as I love Ulysses, come on, that's just showing a stunning lack of imagination. I feel like this Crawford herb is basically contenting himself with a Harold-Bloom-like ossification into a "safe" canon, then proceeding to shiver his joyless jowls at anyone younger than he is.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:04 AM on May 15, 2010 [10 favorites]


proceeding to shiver his joyless jowls


I want to neddlepoint this onna pillow or something.
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


This article would have been good if it stuck to "look, don't imitate these people" instead of "watch me bitterly complain about authors people like instead of liking my work."

That one of his arguments is "Well I have friends who actually fought in the war and Hemingway was just a reporter, and they say he sucks so nyah" makes me embarrassed for him.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:07 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hunter Thomspon. Kerouac. Vonnegut. Salinger. Bukowski. And increasingly Chuck Palahniuk. But that's freshman year stuff. But still more entertaining than the very serious workshops in which everyone spends an entire semester trying to be Raymond Carver. Not that I can say anything, having spent some portion of my young life convinced that D-grade Faulkner Southern Gothic would be much better with shadowy government conspiracy theories and witty, David Foster Wallace-style footnotes.
posted by thivaia at 9:13 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh gosh, can someone please put together a poetry version of this? Half of my creative output is still haunted by E. E. Cummings. And I'm a photographer.
posted by oulipian at 9:15 AM on May 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


Coincidentally, I was reading Rand's Wikipedia page today and came across this, which just describes our humble little community's reaction to her to a T:

...reviewers "seemed to vie with each other in a contest to devise the cleverest put-downs."

Not that I consider this a problem of course.
posted by griphus at 9:18 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


For all the macho swagger bullshit that McCarthy throws around, his fans sure do love to whine. The list wasn't exhaustive, but it was a decent start. The guy was just as hard on Chandler, I guarantee if this were 15 years ago everyone would be up in arms because the guy bagged on Kerouac (I'm more annoyed that he had to borrow from Capote to do it, like making fun of On The Road isn't shooting fish in a barrel), but god forbid anyone do less than fellate the great Cormack, fuck! shit! goddamn!
Shouldn't it be a mark of distinction that the guy has such a distinctive style, such a singular voice, that he can be divisive? I wonder how much of his fandom is based on liking something many others don't.
posted by mikoroshi at 9:22 AM on May 15, 2010


In comics the problem used to be the Alan Moore sample scripts floating around - his scripts are lovely, with these big conversational blocks of text and tons of detail, but even when it's written by Moore artists tend to just cross out all the bits not directly related to what they are doing, and when imitators try it they end up with something useless and unreadbale that totally acts against what they are trying to do. Everyone grows out of that I guess. Lately I've seen more people trying to imitate Warren Ellis in their writing. Failed Ellis imitations are HORRIBLE.

Not that I'd doubt the actual talent of Moore or even that of Ellis on the occasions when he's actually trying.
posted by Artw at 9:25 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Add Nabokov to the list.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2010


> I tried to read Atlas Shrugged in eleventh grade and remain convinced that it weakened my immune system to the point where I succumbed to illness and actually missed about a week of school.

I got cock-blocked by Atlas Shrugged. Midway through my first year of university I was infatuated with a cute girl who lived a couple of floors above me in residence. I made her acquaintance and she seemed smart, funny, interesting, compassionate...and did I mention she was cute? We went out on a couple of coffee dates and things seemed to be heading in a positive direction...and then she lent me Atlas Shrugged. She told me that if I really wanted to understand where she was coming from and who she was as a person, this was the book I had to read.

I'd never even heard of Ayn Rand, but I would have read the phone book if I'd thought doing so was going to get me into her pants, so I immediately tore into it. It was a profoundly dispiriting experience. This piece of shit was her in book form? Was I missing something? As a novel it was embarrassing, and as political philosophy it was revolting. But...she was cute, so...I slogged through the first 800 or so pages, all the way to Galt's Big Speech, before I gave up. After that I returned the book, made up some excuse to cancel our next date and did my best to avoid her.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2010 [33 favorites]


HELLO SIR PLEASE TO EAT A GIGANTIC BAG OF DICKS.
posted by kbanas at 9:36 AM on May 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


...they are numerous enough to form hazards to navigation on the Internet, not to mention Rand's impact on Alan Greenspan.

Those hazards to Rand's impact on Alan Greenspan are tricky to navigate.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:39 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, yes, the great and formative Atlas Shrugged apocalypse. My version (previously posted).
posted by philip-random at 9:42 AM on May 15, 2010


Greg Nog: “Along similar lines, I bristled like FUCK at the notion that Ulysses says all we really needed about the intersection of myth and modernity because, for as much as I love Ulysses, come on, that's just showing a stunning lack of imagination.”

Actually, that was the thing I thought of straight off when I clicked the link; and to be honest I have a sneaking suspicion that it's what inspired the entire article. See, it's not actually an original idea, the thought that Ulysses destroys writers by making them feel as though Joyce has done it all; that was T S Eliot's reaction. He famously wrote in letters to Ezra Pound that "I wish, for my own sake, that I had not read it... How could anyone write again after achieving the immense prodigy of the last chapter?" I think you've got to give T S Eliot credit at least for having a bit more than a "stunningly lack of imagination." A stunning lack of imagination wouldn't lead a person to write The Waste Land, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," et cetera. A stunning lack of imagination might, however, lead a writer to pen a blogging-for-cash-style top ten list apparently germinated by a brief quotation in T S Eliot which he completely neglects to mention.
posted by koeselitz at 9:44 AM on May 15, 2010


I'm actually in the middle of reading Catcher in the Rye for the first time. The plot is pointless, a road novel, it's all about characterization, there are many interesting characters, it's a good book to learn about creating character. The voice and style with "damn" every sentence is an irritating gimmick (no wonder he didn't write another), but it does bring me back to being 18 years old - angry, righteous - even if it's three generations older. It's easy to see why its been a school favorite, short and easy to read, speaks to the teenager directly, full of symbolism. It's an aging novel though, ironically, grotesquely.
posted by stbalbach at 9:50 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd never even heard of Ayn Rand, but I would have read the phone book if I'd thought doing so was going to get me into her pants...

Shame, all you really had to do was stop the motor of the world.
posted by griphus at 9:54 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's easy to see why its been a school favorite, short and easy to read, speaks to the teenager directly, full of symbolism. It's an aging novel though, ironically, grotesquely.

Can you expand on why you think it's aging? For a novel written in 1951 to still speak volumes to teenagers almost sixty years later seems to show that it isn't aging - or at least is aging well.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:56 AM on May 15, 2010


Also, I think people might be confused here. And that's not our fault, really; the difficult thing is that Kilian seems to be at turns criticizing novels and then criticizing the effect those novels have. The result is that he might indicate at one point that Love Story is worth throwing across a room, but I honestly don't think he's necessarily dragging down Blood Meridian, although it's hard to tell. (All of this isn't helped by the fact that he then goes on to have a section for "Good but dangerous" books at the end which seems to imply that all the books that came before were bad. I get the feeling this essay is a first draft, and not very well-considered.)

I had a good, long conversation once with a close writer friend of mine, and he confided that Ulysses is indeed a terribly harmful book for a writer to read, at least while he's writing, because it's almost impossible on the one hand to rise to Joyce's level and on the other hand to avoid letting imitation creep in. I think I can understand the experience; the little things about Joyce, his mannerisms, his style, are things which so inspire us that they infect us – so much so that, if we're trying to write, it's hard not to sound like a crappy imitation of James Joyce. And there have been a lot of crappy imitations of James Joyce over the past century for precisely this reason.

I think the example of Cormac McCarthy is a fair one for some of the same reasons, although he's certainly not as ineluctable as Joyce. At the very least, it seems more interesting to note the significant difference between a novel's being bad in and of itself and being bad for a writer to read. That's the compelling point, I think, that I wish he'd explored more.
posted by koeselitz at 9:58 AM on May 15, 2010


Everyone grows out of that I guess. Lately I've seen more people trying to imitate Warren Ellis in their writing. Failed Ellis imitations are HORRIBLE.

Once you've read enough of anyone, it's easy to find their tics and recreate a style from them. I think many writers could write a pretty convincing imitation of Ellis at his most phoning-it-in, but it'd be harder to write a fake Ellis that grabbed people the way the first year of Transmet did. Because that was Ellis transcending himself. It's hard to say what that ever looks like: It works because you're not expecting it. So you may have a great book, but if the goal is to have a great book that is unmistakably the work of another person, you've probably just fucked up. On the other hand, almost any good writer could write a Chuck Palahniuk novel. I mean, I enjoyed the bunch of Palahniuk books I've read, but he doesn't seem to have grown as a writer at all, ever really pushed past the limits he established in his first novel. Obviously, no one could have written Fight Club until he did, but once he established that pattern, he never strayed from it. It's like being a fantastic pitcher -- for a season, until all the batters have your moves figured out, and you're sunk. This is scary. I think any writer has good reason to be scared of it, and by "it" I mean the truth that you can't just get good and then stop. Each time you put yourself out there, it's kinda the first time.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:58 AM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


somewhere along the line, i think he forgot he was listing authors one should not try to imitate and started listing authors he just didn't like

and, seriously, does anyone try to imitate ayn rand as a WRITER? - god, i should hope not

kerouac gets a bad rap from people who've only read on the road - there's a lot more to him than road stories
posted by pyramid termite at 10:02 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Ah, yes, the great and formative Atlas Shrugged apocalypse.

Now that I know it's happened more than once I'm calling it The Altas Shrugged Cockblocalypse.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:09 AM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think the guy's got a point, even though many people here bristle at mentions of their favorite author. The thing these authors have in common (and, yes, I would have come up with a different list, too) is that they tend to be one-trick ponies. This put-down is not totally dissimilar to praising an author for his unique style, so, yeah, I'm basically ripping off the Spinal Tap bit: "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever." But trying to copy these guys (and one gal) is probably a stupider idea than to copy Atwood, Theroux, Auster, or other authors who speak with less recognizable authorial voices.

I wouldn't want to try to copy my three favorite authors: Kafka, Dick or Murakami (who translated and was influenced by Chandler, by the way, although he doesn't go for Chandler's simile stew).
posted by kozad at 10:09 AM on May 15, 2010


if you're not a great writer and you'd want to shamelessly copy a few great writers, who would be a good person to rip off?

Cervantes. Nick Hornsby. Richard Brautigan.
posted by msalt at 10:09 AM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


There was me, that is Crawford, and my three droogs, that is Raymond, Ernest, and Ayn, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening
posted by oulipian at 10:14 AM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Can you expand on why you think it's aging?

That's a good question and I'll keep it in mind as I continue reading the book. My initial obvious thought is 2010 is different from 1953, the historical context. It's easier for me to get into the book pretending I am a younger version of my parents (born mid-1930s) with their world view and mindsets, it doesn't really strike a chord with me in a deep meaningful way because some of the scenes are hard to imagine happening, and some of the characters and language are long dead. I think the John Hughes movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off (the plot is like CitR) and The Breakfast Club probably speak more directly to me than CitR, although it's not literature.
posted by stbalbach at 10:24 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


As usual, the real lesson is don't be bad. Go ahead and imitate Tolkien if you're Gene Wolfe. ("Don't be bad" has the trivial corollary of "Don't imitate Ayn Rand.")
posted by grobstein at 10:29 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was in college I picked up Atlas Shrugged because they had a poster of it up on the wall at Barnes & Noble, next to the other classics. Gatsby, Invisible Man, War and Peace, Atlas Shrugged. They shouldn't do that to people.

Although I maintain that it's really not that bad if you consider it a light fantasy. It's about as far away from reality as anything involving magic or elves or dragons, so why not? If you can forget that it's meant to be taken seriously, most of it is good dumb "beach reading" fun. Certainly beats The Da Vinci Code.

I think this list is okay. Probably I have no idea what I'm talking about, since I'm not a writer, but I've certainly seen people imitate these authors in English classes. (Well, except for Segal, I guess.)
posted by equalpants at 10:33 AM on May 15, 2010


Kind of intrigued to see the USA trilogy by Dos Passos on a list (whatever the list) solely comprised of other writers most folks have heard of.

Also, the author's main point seems to be that "sure, these writers did it [their 'thing'], but no one else has been able to, so forget it." Does that mean I should ignore John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar as well?
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 10:35 AM on May 15, 2010


I know why he wrote this. It's not "oh no one is ever going to write like Hemmingway so DON'T EVEN READ HIM OR ELSE YOU'LL BE TEMPTED TO TRY". I think his premise is that it's more a matter of young writers who try to imitate these other writers are therefore delayed in finding their own voices, and could sometimes get stuck hacking away at something that they can't do - because they're not really suited to doing it in the first place. I see a lot of this in the playwriting world -- I've read a LOT of unpublished plays that are emulating the same kind of off-beat spirit as Christopher Durang, only it's not their genuine voice and they're just trying to "be wacky" because that's all they think Durang is about. we do not produce those plays (at least in my company), so the playwrights never really get the encouragement to "okay, this is all well and good, but what about trying to do something totally unique?" And it just delays them -- or gets them stuck permanently.

That's kind of his point - however, I disagree with him about whether this is a DANGEROUS step for writers. I think that it just kind of happens with every writer that they go through an emulation phase when they find a writers' technique that they've never encountered before; this sort of light goes off over their head and they go "wait, you can do that?" and they'll try a similar hommage.

But I don't necessarily think it's bad to do this. It's part of the learning process; part of trying things out and seeing what fits you. Kind of like how little kids "learn" by pretending to be different things. Yes, it is a danger to get stuck in one space, but you run into that danger even if you don't emulate any other writer and do something your own self that's just sucky.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:43 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hear moron bells ringing.
posted by New England Cultist at 10:44 AM on May 15, 2010


Man, fuck Joyce. Yeah, he's probably my favorite author, but fuck him anyway. It's so very difficult to write a formally experimental novel - no matter how different from Ulysses, no matter how different from stream of consciousness - without being compared to the guy (and you will be found lacking).
posted by naju at 10:45 AM on May 15, 2010


> Certainly beats The Da Vinci Code.

I'm having an incredibly hard time trying to figure out if I agree with this or not. At any rate, they should print that blurb on all future editions of Atlas Shrugged.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:47 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


So are up-and-coming writers pretty much done trying to imitate Updike, then? Because boy did I see a lot of that.
posted by furiousthought at 10:55 AM on May 15, 2010


[W]ho is a solid, unpretentious writer, who even you fail to mimic, will at least teach you how to write in an inoffensive way[?]

John Irving. There may be other good answers, but I'm not convinced there's a better answer.
posted by 256 at 10:56 AM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Before troubling ourselves with listening to a person's supposed insight or advice, it is useful to know why we should care.

Butterfly on a wheel here.

The guy is trying to make a few bucks in the writing game, which is harder and harder to do these days, what with this internet thing and "will write for vanity" folks (like us). So he dashes off a three minute essay that will catch a few eyes, raise a few questions, cause a little controversy (look at all the responses here, for starters) and no harm done.

End of day, if he makes a convincing argument, I don't care about his CV. If he doesn't, then I care only if he's well respected, so I can feel superior.

If the subject were finance or nuclear physics, I'd be with you. But for Christ's sake, we're talking about novels here.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:56 AM on May 15, 2010


I'm quite enjoying the collective flipping of the Mefi bird in this guys general direction. Well done.

You know what kills good young writers?

1. Having people tell you that no matter how good you are or can be, you will never get published because it's a one in million crap shoot and don't even waste your time. That's complete and utter bullshit. If your work is good and you've studied the craft and read as a writer, you will get published. Period. Get on with it.

2. Having know it all guys like this try and convince you that you shouldn't like certain writers as much as you do or that you shouldn't read them or copy them. Fuck that. Copy all you like, all writers start out inspired and copying someone or other. GET ON WITH IT. Remember, good writers copy and great writers STEAL.

Having said that, there is one novel I don't recommend being read by an adolescent as it is deeply damaging to your sense of life having any purpose whatsoever (see #1 above), especially if you've already been inundated with Catholic imagery and that is Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell.

Here's the Abridged version for anyone interested: Studs is a dickhead, he leads an ignorant useless life unable to articulate anything and dies an ignorant useless death after he goes out one night gets drunk , falls asleep on a bench and catches pneumonia. The end.

(Actually, I would recommend anyone who reads it is on major anti-depressants and has a sadistic streak, because by golly that fucker, Studs, is a nimrod.)
posted by Skygazer at 11:06 AM on May 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


Naju: Man, fuck Joyce. Yeah, he's probably my favorite author, but fuck him anyway. It's so very difficult to write a formally experimental novel - no matter how different from Ulysses, no matter how different from stream of consciousness - without being compared to the guy (and you will be found lacking).

Well, the guy spent 17 years writing the fucking thing, so using that as a measuring stick one has one's work cut out for him or her.
posted by Skygazer at 11:10 AM on May 15, 2010


So where does Chris Claremont's run on Uncanny X-Men fit in?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:12 AM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Personally, I find troublesome to read Nabokov while I'm writing anything. He's just so precise and evocative, in such an indefinable way, that my own stuff seems to become worthless in comparison. If I do try to copy him I end up finishing with even worse muck.
posted by Omon Ra at 11:20 AM on May 15, 2010


I know why he wrote this.

He wrote it because columns like this sell. Editors love them. For starters, it's a list and editors love lists. It purports to be instructive for the "how-to" readers, and it recites a series of name- and title-drops to catch the eye of the literary crowd. Stick a provocative title on top and you're golden.

The second Google hit for this guy's name is "Writing for the Web," which appears to be his personal blog. I'll bet five bucks, if he's been doing that for any amount of time, that he's written at least one column prescribing this exact same recipe ("Write a how-to," "Incorporate a bulleted list," etc.). There are a hundred of them out there, all saying the same thing because it works. You can write this same column in any genre—"10 Paintings That Ruin Art Students"; "The Five Most Abused Philosophers in College Readings"; etc.—and it will sell and people will link to it as if you were pitching a serious thesis instead of practicing paint-by-numbers writing.
posted by cribcage at 11:21 AM on May 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Pretty good list; I went in looking for Salinger, Hem, Chandler, and Kerouac, and by God I found them. Of course it's not the last word, of course it's not great literature itself, sheesh. It made a good point in a decent way. But it is amusing as hell to see all the McCarthy fans frothing and squealing like stuck pigs. As mikoroshi says, "if this were 15 years ago everyone would be up in arms because the guy bagged on Kerouac."

> but no, I find a list of a guy saying Jack Kerouac, Cormac McCarthy, Salinger, Hemingway and Tolkien are bad writers.

F for comprehension. Go back and reread.
posted by languagehat at 11:36 AM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Have any writers actually tried to imitate Rand? She's certainly had a horribly corrosive effect on economics and politics but has she had any effect on literature at all? Most of the randians I know seem to have only read her books and don't read any other fiction.
posted by octothorpe at 11:47 AM on May 15, 2010


Hating on Rand is in your rational self interest.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:59 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


F for comprehension. Go back and reread.

I don't know that he calls all of them bad writers (well, he explicitly calls Tolkien "the old master," so I guess it's safe to say he's not calling JRR a hack), but about as close as he gets to complimenting any of the others is saying that Kerouac isn't to blame for his own shitty first novel. I'd have to say you've quoted a fairly accurate representation of this muddled article.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:04 PM on May 15, 2010


as ineluctable as Joyce

I see what you did there.
posted by twirlip at 12:08 PM on May 15, 2010


No, he explicitly says "They are often well-written, but their effects have generally been disastrous." I guess if he'd anticipated the number of sloppy readers, he might have taken the trouble to point out "Needless to say, Hemingway is a great writer, but..."
posted by languagehat at 12:08 PM on May 15, 2010



What's lacking here is an understanding that finding your voice as a writer, or your voice as any kind of artist, necessarily involves several phases of imitation; almost any good artist is going to imitate what works and shed what doesn't work for them. I mean, imagine if somebody told Melville to stop reading so much of the Bible and Shakespeare and to just write his prose plain. Which I'm sure somebody did tell him that. Anyway, why take advice on writing from someone who can't write a decent article? I mean sure, don't try to imitate Ulysses. But do read it, and do your damnest to write better.
posted by bukharin at 12:12 PM on May 15, 2010


No, he explicitly says "They are often well-written, but their effects have generally been disastrous."

Nooooooo, he says "some novels." He does not say "these novels, which I discuss below." The actual blurbs about these specific novels are mostly pretty unflattering.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:15 PM on May 15, 2010


Manly men have different standards, but a strangely similar list.

This article condensed: don't imitate recognizable writing styles. It makes it harder to find your own.

Not that I think that's a worthwhile conclusion, just a mediocre one condensed.
posted by warbaby at 12:15 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh gosh, can someone please put together a poetry version of this? Half of my creative output is still haunted by E. E. Cummings.

A Partial List of Poets Young Poets Should Not Imitate

Him
  • Sylvia Plath (nobody cares about your dad)
    Your workshop professor (nobody cares about your grandparents either)
  • Sharon Olds (or what they did to you as a kid)
  • any kind of slam anything (it's called writing not TALKing in WEird CAdencEeesssss...)
  • John Ashberry (you have to be able to start making sense before you can stop_
  • Amiri Baraka ("The poet asserteth nothing and therefore / never lieth")
  • Richard Wilbur (effete is something you're born with, and pipe smoke smells terrible)
  • James Wright (getting blackout drunk and gaping at birds doesn't count as inspiration)


    (I don't say Bukowski or Ginsburg because CB imitations are actually pretty hilarious even bad ones. And Billy Collins imiations can become stronger voices quickly so he's not too damaging either) Ymmv.

  • posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:17 PM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


    (argh i hit post before done editing, please excuse the innumerable misspellings and malamanteaus above)
    posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:20 PM on May 15, 2010


    I actually agreed with the entire post. All the writers mentioned wrote good books, but the tone they used to write them should never be duplicated by any other writer. Nobody wants to read another Lord of the Rings.

    Also, Cormac McCarthy is a horrible writer and why would anyone read him or want to imitate him and blarrrghhhh
    posted by shii at 12:55 PM on May 15, 2010


    The dangerous pitfalls are not great writers and great writing but the plethora of crap that publishing houses churn out on a daily basis that writers think they have to imitate to have any chance at success.

    I'd rather see writers trying (or trying and failing) to imitate Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas than Eat, Pray, Love.

    So, yeah, this list can go take a flying leap.
    posted by blucevalo at 12:59 PM on May 15, 2010


    F for comprehension. Go back and reread.

    F for Fucking obnoxious, again. Your schtick is old and tired.

    Here is the quote:

    "The good but dangerous books are a different matter."

    As in, different from the books in this list. if you want to make the argument that the books mentioned are bad books by good writers, then you got me, I wrote quickly and spoke slightly inaccurately. But you're splitting hairs and, as has become all too usual for you, are doing so by being a jerk about it. Please consider revamping your participation around here by being less of a curmudgeon and intolerable boor.
    posted by shmegegge at 1:05 PM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


    I dunno; I think that John Darnielle's recent book "Master of Reality", which is basically an angsty kid talking about how much he loves Sabbath, blows Catcher in the Rye right the fuck out of the water.

    Holy shit, I'm so behind the times on Mountain Goats stuff that I hadn't heard of this. MUST READ NOW!

    This list is stupid. Basically, his thesis seems to be that young, insufferable people become obsessed with pretentious word vomit and then churn out insufferable prose. The problem is that he sounds completely insufferable, himself, in the way he goes about saying so, like one of those college students who laughs about how goth they were in high school without acknowledging that being an indie kid in big hipster glasses isn't much better.
    posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:08 PM on May 15, 2010


    But thousands of others created a literary Mordor: mass-market industrial fantasy, where the orcs, elves and dwarves march past like the North Korean army.

    OH NO BOOKS PEOPLE LIKE!

    Also elves don't march past, they rhythmic gymnastic past or something
    posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:10 PM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Elves *glide* motherfucker.
    posted by The Whelk at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


    If you're an aspiring writer you should try to copy Hemingway's prose style.
    posted by KokuRyu at 1:22 PM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Please consider revamping your participation around here by being less of a curmudgeon and intolerable boor.

    Yep.
    posted by KokuRyu at 1:23 PM on May 15, 2010


    "Nobody should try to write like Tolkien ever again. We already know all we need to about elves + hobbits."

    no we don't

    "Nobody wants to read another Lord of the Rings."

    Yes we do

    seriously if it were good I would read the hell out of it.
    posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:26 PM on May 15, 2010 [5 favorites]



    Sounds like some folk read books they don't like. I stopped doing that after college. After a couple of chapters I bail if it isn't enjoyable.
    posted by notreally at 1:29 PM on May 15, 2010


    tl:dr version: find your own style. Don't be a hack. I know, it happened to me.
    posted by Joey Michaels at 2:19 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    If you're an aspiring writer you should try to copy Hemingway's prose style.

    Almost every writer who hasn't already gone through a phase of unabashed Hemingway-tribute could stand to learn a lot from the man's writing. That said, there is a downside to mimicking Hemingway: too many people copy not just his form, but his content.
    posted by 256 at 2:56 PM on May 15, 2010


    Eli Cash's Old Custer
    posted by milkrate at 3:01 PM on May 15, 2010


    The whole thing can be cyclic as well - Lovecraft spent a long time trying to be Dunsany or Poe before finally figuring out how to be Lovecraft, and since then loads of people have imitated Lovecraft before finding their own style.
    posted by Artw at 3:09 PM on May 15, 2010


    Would also throw Catch-22 on the list.

    Heller's overwhelmingly egregious adjective abuse has tainted all aspects of my writing, both fiction and nonfiction, to this very day.

    This comment kind of wrote itself.
    posted by elizardbits at 3:21 PM on May 15, 2010


    Nobody should read any of those books, or the article itself, or any of the comments in this post. Nobody should write anything ever again.
    posted by tehloki at 3:31 PM on May 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


    That comment should be read in the voice of Werner Herzog.
    posted by Artw at 3:44 PM on May 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


    ha ha, HOW DID YOU KNOW
    posted by tehloki at 3:50 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Many old-master painters spent time in their youth copying paintings by older masters.
    posted by StickyCarpet at 4:00 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    What, no Naked Lunch? I read the headline and I thought, "well, Naked Lunch, I wonder what the other nine are". Great book, terrible for an aspiring writer. I think Bret Easton Ellis probably belongs on that list too. And Hunter S Thompson, if we can bend the rules to call Fear and Loathing a novel. All great stuff, and highly targets for ill-advised emulation.
    posted by WPW at 4:41 PM on May 15, 2010


    highly tempting targets, that is
    posted by WPW at 4:54 PM on May 15, 2010


    Re: Ayn Rand Was I missing something?

    Speaking as someone who spent high school preaching Rand, I can tell you that her books' appeal for me was that they were the first thing I'd ever read that suggested women could take what they wanted, too, and were allowed, nay- required! to take care of themselves and not everyone else.

    It was (is?) a heady concept for girls raised to be caretakers of everyone's needs but their own.
    posted by small_ruminant at 5:43 PM on May 15, 2010




    Eli Cash's Old Custer


    "The crickets and the rust-beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sage thicket. "Vamanos, amigos," he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight. "
    posted by thivaia at 5:49 PM on May 15, 2010


    Back in the day Stephen King would have been on that list. Most of my high school writing ripped off King relentlessly.
    posted by KokuRyu at 6:12 PM on May 15, 2010


    I was derailed for months by a DF Wallace obsession.
    But I'm glad I read him.
    posted by angrycat at 7:24 PM on May 15, 2010


    When I stopped plagiarizing Hemingway, I plagiarized Tolkien.

    Well that's more about you than about these novels being "dangerous" for young writers. Such pap.
    posted by the noob at 7:46 PM on May 15, 2010


    Nobody wants to read another Lord of the Rings.

    the fantasy section of your local bookstore is proof that people do - even if it's a pale imitation, and it generally is
    posted by pyramid termite at 8:25 PM on May 15, 2010


    Experimenting with other people's writing styles is part of the process, and there's major stuff to be learned from all of those writers, both in dos and don'ts. It's a lot more dangerous to tell aspiring writers that they should stay away from certain things, as if they will become tainted if they identify too much with Holden Caufield or Sal Paradise and begin writing like that, than to have them spending some of their time copying other people's styles.

    In short, this guy is bitter because he never got as good as any of these writers, even when he attempted to learn from them, and now he's flailing about it on the internet.
    posted by NoraReed at 8:57 PM on May 15, 2010


    In short, this guy is bitter because he never got as good as any of these writers,

    While I wouldn't be quite so harsh about the writer of the linked article, I must say that the Tyee in general has a bit of an off-putting, snide tone, especially their pieces on culture, sort of a Canadian Left Coast thing, I guess.
    posted by KokuRyu at 11:47 PM on May 15, 2010


    I think there's an argument of avoiding reading any writers with an extreme style at the same time as actually writing as that's almost unavoidable that'll it'll leak out into your prose. I've heard of a number of pro writers who don't read at all while they are writing, catching up between novels.

    I'm reading David Peace at the moment, who is so hard boiled that literally anything else looks ridiculously verbose and sappy compared to it. I'm planning to temper it with some China Mieville next.

    Read widely and avoid the temptation of Here Is A Genius, This Is The One True Way I Must Follow! Go your own way.

    Of course I started with ripping off the unholy trinity of Hudson, Herbert and the Pan Books Of Horror... oh boy, did my English teacher love that.
    posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:06 AM on May 16, 2010


    Although I maintain that it's really not that bad if you consider it a light fantasy. It's about as far away from reality as anything involving magic or elves or dragons, so why not? If you can forget that it's meant to be taken seriously, most of it is good dumb "beach reading" fun. Certainly beats The Da Vinci Code.

    Really? Because it's hard to imagine ... I guess it's like a light fantasy written by narcissistic robot ants.
    posted by krinklyfig at 4:47 AM on May 16, 2010


    Anybody who uses the phrase 'aspiring writer' can go eat broken glass.
    posted by Football Bat at 7:09 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I was thrilled to see Dos Passos on the list for the sole reason that I slogged my way through U.S.A. Trilogy over an entire summer in preparation for a grad seminar, feeling like I was slowly, sloooowly pulling out each of my teeth along the way, only to have the professor announce on the first day of class that we weren't going to cover it and that it had made it onto the advance reading list by mistake. Reading it was like reading a dictionary from a different age, where we needed to know about things like flensers and glove paralysis. Actually, that reading experience would be kind of cool. Dos Passos was just dull, dull, dull. I'm confident that the experience of seeing Dos Passos on this list and actually knowing who was being referred to is the one and only reward I've ever gotten from reading it.
    posted by ga$money at 7:22 AM on May 16, 2010


    Really? Because it's hard to imagine ... I guess it's like a light fantasy written by narcissistic robot ants.

    I kind of pictured a bratty middle school kid, at a model U.N. meeting, in a gray suit three sizes too big.
    posted by equalpants at 8:01 AM on May 16, 2010


    Kittens for Breakfast: ... I think many writers could write a pretty convincing imitation of Ellis [Hemingway, Salinger, Nabakov, Joyce etc...] at his most phoning-it-in, but it'd be harder to write a fake Ellis [Hemingway, Bronte, Salinger, Nabakov, Joyce etc...] that grabbed people the way the first year of Transmet (or x, y, z) did. Because that was Ellis [Hemingway, Bronte, Salinger, Nabakov, Joyce etc...] transcending himself (herself). It's hard to say what that ever looks like: It works because you're not expecting it.

    This right here, is a brilliant observation that just blew my mind up a bit. And I think it bears re-reading and repeating and some thought.

    Because I think this happened to me at a certain point, from writing all the time (for a few years actually) and getting sick of the tone and becoming impatient with it, and so becoming more plain and to the point, and I didn't even like it at first. I thought I was being lazy, and dumb sounding, but I began to get good responses with readers, teachers etc. And I had to go back and just re-evaluate and make some global decisions.

    And so the moral of the story is, sometimes you have to forget about what you *think* is good writing, or what you've even been told (usually subconsciously), is good writing, and do what *feels* better or helps you more easily get yourself down on the page. As long as a sentence still makes sense you're more or less good.

    *With apologies to KFB for tampering with it a bit to help make the point. The brackets with the other author names and emphasis is mine.
    posted by Skygazer at 10:44 AM on May 16, 2010


    "Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

    This at least has the virtue of being so widely read and discussed that we don't really need to read it ourselves."

    Maybe it's an American thing - Rand is fairly obscure in the UK.
    posted by mippy at 12:45 PM on May 16, 2010


    I remember reading White Noise and not getting the fuss. A few months later, a friend of mine had just taken an exam on the Great American Novel.

    'Oh, you mean like Fitzgerald and Hemingway and stuff?'
    'No, it's all stuff you'll have never heard of, like White Noise...'

    I went and paid the £10 library fine for having that book out over the summer and muttered over my phonemes.
    posted by mippy at 12:58 PM on May 16, 2010


    Do young male writers still imitate Amis fils? He's fallen out of fashion with my generation - nobody I knew at university, 2000-03, was reading him - but ten years ago everyone was trying to do London Fields and The Rachel Papers. Must be the 80s generation.
    posted by mippy at 1:24 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Do young male writers still imitate Amis fils? He's fallen out of fashion with my generation - nobody I knew at university, 2000-03, was reading him - but ten years ago everyone was trying to do London Fields and The Rachel Papers. Must be the 80s generation.

    I'm not sure whether he's still a big deal in the UK, but I think he's basically fallen off the map in the US. Like you said, he had kind of a heyday around the same time as people like Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, and it all seems kinda dated now. I can't imagine young writers really getting into any of those guys, unless the '80s greed n' coke n' implants thing has after all this time taken on a "Mad Men"-style sheen of revulsion/nostalgia.
    posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:59 PM on May 16, 2010


    I actually thought of Amis when reading the article... but yeah, I think he's shot his bolt now, at least as being the hip young gun-slinger people might want to imitate. I've no idea who might have taken his place but possibly Ian McEwan is still in there and I imagine a fair number of faux David Mitchells have flown across agents' and publishers' desks in recent years.
    posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:29 PM on May 16, 2010


    I thought Money was stylistic and narrative genius and even paradigmatic in what it revealed about how pornography pervades every aspect of the West, I feel closer to Amis, Pater, Kingley's, Lucky Jim, than to his sons books.
    posted by Skygazer at 3:36 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Christ, what an asshole.
    posted by Theta States at 6:31 AM on May 17, 2010


    "This one took me only 45 minutes to read, and half a second to fling across the room. All by itself, it made the 1970s a lost decade."

    And this is advice, how?
    posted by clvrmnky at 8:00 AM on May 17, 2010


    Chandler is super fun to read. I rarely follow the plot as well as I hope, but it's always funny and clever stuff. FTG. (Fuck this guy)
    posted by JBennett at 8:19 AM on May 17, 2010


    I love Chandler because he's funny and doesn't usually go for the cheap stereotypes, even for his era. There are good cops, and bad ones, good prostitutes and bad ones, good & bad "Hollywood Types," midwesterners, women, men, Mexicans, blacks, you name it.

    As a result, with a couple of exceptions, it ages really well.

    I read a comparison somewhere between what types of speech and writing Americans value and those valued in Europe. They author argued that "plain" speech was valued by Americans because of its founding religions' eschewal of anything that might be considered fancy, and because of it's conscious avoidance of anything smacking of aristocracy.

    Europeans, especially in the 18th and 19th century, still liked a demonstration of the full use of the language, and liked flourishy description.

    I don't know how true that is, but it's an interesting idea.
    posted by small_ruminant at 9:40 AM on May 17, 2010


    I think "Show, Don't Tell" is a very American literary rule.
    posted by grobstein at 9:50 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Do young male writers still imitate Amis fils?

    Only Hot Guys.
    posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:51 AM on May 17, 2010


    Oh my fucking God, every time I hear "Show don't tell" in whatever literary group, it takes me everything I have to not roll my eyes to the point they drop out of my head and roll around on the ground.

    "Write what you know" also stimulates eye-rolling. In grad school, one prof instructed his students to write about a) Their first drug experience or b) Their first fuck.

    This caused large problems for a virginal girl who had never done drugs, at least until she took a class from that professor. Then she all sorts of experiences on benzodiazapines, as the professor's excoriating her for her writing about elves brought on panic attacks.
    posted by angrycat at 11:47 AM on May 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


    The effect is like eating a nice firm dog turd garnished with whipped cream and a cherry on top, served on a fine porcelain plate with a silver spoon.

    Hey! He used a metaphor!
    posted by ovvl at 2:38 PM on May 17, 2010


    Trying to copy things we like is very natural human artistic behavior, and nothing to be ashamed of.

    But if you copy Ayn Rand, I will laugh at you.
    posted by ovvl at 2:41 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Advice for young writers from Russell Smith: "Read lots of different books."
    posted by ovvl at 2:42 PM on May 17, 2010


    I took a 200-level class towards my English degree. Our weekly assignment was to read a book and then write about an event in your life in that author's style. With the exception of Robbe-Grillet and Celine, I'm pretty sure most if not all of the books on this guy's list were on the syllabus. Pretty funny.
    posted by nevercalm at 3:12 PM on May 17, 2010


    Write your next comment in the style of The Whelk, Nevercalm. Your permanent record depends on it.
    posted by The Whelk at 3:46 PM on May 17, 2010


    I can only aspire to your wit, wisdom and volume here, Your Whelkness, damage to permanent record notwithstanding.
    posted by nevercalm at 6:03 PM on May 17, 2010


    + with caupcakes.
    posted by The Whelk at 6:58 PM on May 17, 2010


    F+ rather wopw
    posted by The Whelk at 6:58 PM on May 17, 2010


    am fan of coupcakes

    not sure about caupcakes, tho
    posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:13 PM on May 17, 2010


    angrycat: “Oh my fucking God, every time I hear "Show don't tell" in whatever literary group, it takes me everything I have to not roll my eyes to the point they drop out of my head and roll around on the ground.”

    Argh. "Show, don't tell" is the principle of the dishonest and obnoxious writer. The point of writing is to communicate. If you have something to say, tell it. If you can't tell it one way, tell it another. But, for the love of god, don't bury what you're trying to say underneath metaphors and symbols because you don't want people to think you're not a "good writer." I swear, it's as though people think clarity, directness and precision are signs that you're stupid or something.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:37 PM on May 17, 2010


    But, for the love of god, don't bury what you're trying to say underneath metaphors and symbols because you don't want people to think you're not a "good writer."

    Er, that's really not what show don't tell is about. If you're getting advice from someone who thinks that's what it's about then you're getting bad advice.
    posted by Artw at 7:46 PM on May 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


    I love Chandler because he's funny and doesn't usually go for the cheap stereotypes, even for his era. There are good cops, and bad ones, good prostitutes and bad ones, good & bad "Hollywood Types," midwesterners, women, men, Mexicans, blacks, you name it.

    As a result, with a couple of exceptions, it ages really well.


    The homophobia in the portrayal of Arthur Geiger in The Big Sleep (there's a disdainful "aftermath of a fag party" paragraph in particular) is pretty difficult reading, as much as I love Chandler too, and I think I remember some painful Jewish incidents as well. In contrast to the Hawks film, it all looks fairly progressive, though, what with it actually explaining that Geiger deals in pornographic books rather than leaving it bizarrely vague. Even if both use Chinese motifs to signify sex and drugs and illicit reading.

    Anyway. Is there really a plague of young writers now copying Chandler?
    posted by carbide at 5:38 AM on May 30, 2010


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