The Broken Egg Formula
Posted by BigWords on August 20, 2009
Whenever there is a new idea that comes along, I tend to get suspicious of the motives behind the author. Why do you want to share your secrets to success? Where is the catch? How long before you ask for a cheque made out for $19.95 so I can be the proud owner of a Get Published Quick self-printed self-prophecy, because the only sure fire way to make big money writing is to write about making money. Suckers will spend the cash hoping to make it big, but they normally only make the author rich.
There’s really no reason for more book on how to write, because the simplest answer is (ta-da!) “Sit your ass down in a goddamn chair and get on with it, you fool.” Not the most elegant, nor subtle, way that the phrase has ever been delivered, but it is one which crops up with heartening regularity. I like the blunt and sledgehammer-like efficiency of the prompt, and hope that people are doing just that. Writing isn’t a skill which can be learned through repetition alone.
If you want a sure-fire career, then train to be a plumber or an electrician.
The naming of different schemes has puzzled me for years. There are the mundane and relatively straightforward ones, The_______ _____ Guide To Writing (insert name of author) or Twelve Easy Steps To Success, which will do exactly what it says on the cover and no more. When authors start getting clever with their titles, I begin to wonder about the audience. Is something like The Happy Writer’s Cheery Work-Day (or similar) really meant for serious authors, or are the targets school-leavers?
There was a quote that was repeated several times in the mid-nineties from an Urge Overkill interview. I don’t know where the piece was originally printed, but I remember the quote:
Any wanker can wear a suit.
I liked the honest and unpretentious comment. It’s so similar to my opinion of How To… books that it feels like something I could have said.
Any wanker can write a book about writing.
And many have.
So, if anyone has written such a book, feel free to disagree with the rest of this post, because I’m not done yet. I’m barely started. I haven’t even pointed out that the number of readers of these types of books don’t match the figures for new authors published in any year. If the advice is so helpful, then why aren’t thousands of new authors so astoundingly successful by following the amazing and insightful advice found within these tomes?
It goes back to my point about sitting down and writing.
There’s a big difference between using the advice from writing guides and actually writing, especially when advice from different sources contradict each other to the point of idiocy. I’m not a child either, and I don’t like being talked down to – which some of those books seem to take delight in. Are you writing for authors? Then feel free to break out the complex and intricate web of ideas that certainly don’t get talked about too often.
I’m going to make up my own rules here, and add to the thoughts every so often. First I need a ridiculous and completely irrelevant name for my guide. The Wonky Adjective Guide? The Purple Prose People Eater? Hmmm… How about The Broken Egg Formula? It’s no more idiotic than many real books on writing, and I already have my very first mangled metaphor from the name.
A piece of writing should be like an egg. It’s great if it is whole, but even when you break it up and smoosh it around a bit, there should still be flavor left.
Damn, that’s good. It sounds ridiculous, but it might help someone. I may have a career in writing How To books, because that is really how easy it is. Hollow and simplistic ideas which can be interpreted any way the reader wants, often without thinking about the intentions of the actual words.
My current dilemma concerning advice I have been receiving goes to the core of a moment-of-inspiration in one of my WIPs. It wasn’t intentional, but I came up with a Big Theme. The use of a Big Theme tying a book together is something I don’t normally concern myself with until I go back and look at the narrative after a considerable amount of writing, picking out the threads that run through the story so that scenes can be tied together.
I’ve been told that the “message” is too obvious, and to cut back on the layers of fiction. Stories within stories within stories are, apparently, rather passé. There’s something about the idea that keeps drawing me back, as if the story wants to be told in a certain way. I’m not sure if it is the right way, or even if there IS a right way to write a book (highlighting the utter pointlessness of books about writing), but it is what it is.
I’ll use that as one of my “rules”: Write the story the way the story dictates.
That’s just obscure enough to make it into an actual writing guideline.