I am not a fan of the “I JUDGE YOU WHEN YOU USE POOR GRAMMAR” Facebook movement.
Shh. I can hear your reaction through my screen. “Aren’t you an English teacher?” You snortle. “Don’t they PAY you to be a grammar elitist?” Har har har. Yes. They pay me to help middle school kids read and write better. But if you’ve successfully passed your puberty exam, I will politely ignore your bad grammar.
I do that because plenty of people politely ignore MY bad grammar. I know my writing breaks rules and stylistic no-no’s that I have a hard time keeping track of. Those intelligent, rule-loving folks are kind enough not to publicly berate me when I, say, end sentences with prepositions. This is very nice of them, because I don’t particularly enjoy having my nose rubbed in my shortcomings.
If you’re a Social Media Grammar Nazi, you might consider extending that courtesy to others, too.
This post isn’t about grammar, though. It IS about the Good Writing Continuum, or, more specifically, how smugly we demean someone behind us on it – particularly if that person has enjoyed some kind of success.
In other words, this post is going to encourage you to give Stephanie Meyer a hug if you pass her at the Piggly Wiggly.
Here I go.
“The badness of Twilight” is a safe conversation topic. Whether we’re forcing conversation with our hippie coworker or stuck nursing a beer next to our friend’s racist uncle, we know we can all find common ground mocking sparkly vampires and the women who love them. Twilight, we all agree, is a train wreck of a novel that should have never been published. Among writers, Stephanie Meyer inspires an especially bitter ire. “Why are we all trying to be good at this when the bad writers make the money?”
Let’s be clear. The reason most writers hate Stephanie Meyer is because they’re jealous of her seemingly easy-peasy, “I didn’t even have to TRY!” success.
I am, too.
I’m jealous because I’ve been plugging away at this writing thing for years and I don’t have a dime to show for it. And that lack of a dime is making it hard to justify all the time I spend doing it, and it is especially hard to spend money on the things that make me better at it.
And then someone like Stephanie Meyer comes along and has a dream about sparkling teenagers, writes several hundred pages of purple prose, and earns enough money to Scrooge McDuck into a room full of gold coins, and that was MY childhood dream, damn it, only it was marshmallows, okay, but how else will I be able to afford that many marshmallows if I don’t get a book deal and movie deal and t-shirts and action figures and people writing fan fiction about my fiction?
But all aspiring writers have at one point been less successful versions of Stephanie Meyer.
Seven years ago, when I finally decided to stop talking about writing a novel and actually write it, I was convinced that all I had to do was put words on my computer screen and people would flock around my awesomeness. That’s how it had worked for me for many years – in high school and college, I rarely had to revise my work. I received praise from peers and professors alike for my first first drafts. “Just wait until agents get their hands on this novel!” I thought.
Agents got their hands on my novel. They hated it. You know why? It was bad. Twilight bad.
I was not, I learned, going to be an overnight sensation.
And thank heavens. Because what if I HAD gotten published? And worse, what if people loved it and I made millions?
What if I learned too late that my writing was actually terrible, and that writers across the world were using me as the punchline for their “THIS is what people are reading?” joke?
“Oh pish posh,” you’re saying. “You wouldn’t care! You’d be Scrooge McDucking into piles of marshmallows!”
YES I WOULD. But seriously, I don’t write for the marshmallows. I write because I have stories and I want people to read them and love them.
Any writer batty enough to write a whole novel is not doing it for the money. They’re doing it for the love…and so was everyone’s favorite teenage vampire enthusiast.
Stephanie Meyer was not an Evil Bad Writer Writing Horrible Bad Sparkly Things to Steal the Millions from the Good Educated Hard Working Writers. That person doesn’t exist. Stephanie Meyer was trying to write a book that people would love – and boy, did people love it.
But people who know good writing hate it. REALLY hate it. Maybe she wishes she spent more time learning how to write something good before she was swept away by her success. Maybe she’ll die thinking, “I wish I hadn’t gotten famous from THAT novel.”
Or maybe she’ll die in a bed of gold coins beside her three lovable duckling nephews.
That’s not my point. This is my point:
You, aspiring writer, are going to publish a novel too, someday, and I hope people say lovely things about it. But, much like there are people in the world who are kind enough not to point out your (my) inability to discriminate between an essential and non-essential appositive phrase, there will always be better writers out there, and unless they are Jonathan Franzen, they will be kind enough not to publicly discredit you.
You, aspiring writer, are a better writer than someone else. Good for you. Keep that to yourself.
Writing well is hard. Making money off of writing is even harder. But what we really want, more than anything, is for people to love what we make. So when you’re at Barnes and Noble, try not to be mad at that beautiful endcap display featuring everyone’s favorite crappy book.
Someday, maybe someone will love your crappy book, too.