Why Don’t I Research Writing Advice?

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Y’all Want A Single by Korn)

Hello, Reed.

Hello to you, Reed.

I had a question for you.

Please, shoot.

If you’re so interested in learning how to write well, why don’t you do any goddamn research about writing?

Wow, what a seriously great question, Reed, you handsome devil, you. And it’s actually one I’ve grappled with quite a lot – especially when reading blogs like Rachel Poli’s in which it’s clear why she has thousands of followers. She researches her stuff, reaches out to the community, has a good balance of different article types – essentially, she does everything I do wrong, right.

People who want the best for me ask me why I don’t try to read more books about the basics of writing, or why I don’t learn about the different types of editing, choosing instead to struggle through basic edits until someone comes along and says “You know that shit’s online, right?”

In other words, why do I reinvent the wheel? Why is this called “Journey Into Writing” instead of “Reed’s Happy Fun Compilation of Online Resources for the New Writer”?

Part of it is stubbornness, and part of it is an acknowledgement of how I learn. When in undergrad I tried to learn chemistry concepts in lectures, it would always be so difficult for me to see how things fit together. But in lab courses, and other courses where we were allowed to work through things ourselves, I got a greater understanding not just of the what, but the why.

It’s a very similar thing when I’m writing. I could read online materials about the different types of editing – how they differentiate between content editing and line editing, and why the distinction is important – but I don’t think I would really understand why if I didn’t first try editing a whole bunch of different ways and fail at all of them. And then, when I stumble into the last possible alternative, which happens to be the right way to edit, I can say for sure that I know why it works – because nothing else worked (and trust me, I would know).

It sounds pretty stupid when I write it and read it here to myself. But it’s the way I’ve always operated – I just can’t understand the paradigms until I’ve tried to toy around with them and realized why the guidelines are there in the first place. It is in no way the most efficient method of learning to write, but hey, I’m still young, and I really believe my later writings will reflect my idiotic decision to butt my head against the wall for years… in the good way.

A whole different question I’ve gotten that has a similar answer is, “Why don’t you self-publish?” I think I may have already answered this to a certain degree in another post, but it kind of works like this:

There’s this intangible person in the sky (let’s call them God the Literary Agent) who may or may not exist, and who may or may not have a passing interest in me and my work. I am so beneath this person’s radar that I must try my absolute hardest, must work through draft after draft of my project until I cannot conceive of it being any better, in order to even obtain the merest glance of divine attention from this Literary Agent.

Now, imagine that here on the ground, there was a little hole with a troll in it (let’s call him Temptation Self Publishing) who definitely exists, and has a definitely devious plan for me. He says, “Hey kid, forget that Literary Agent in the sky; I can do the same thing for you that they do, and without all the effort. Just give your manuscript to me as it is right now, and I’ll put it up online for you.” And he regales me with these glorious tales of folks he’s helped catapult into fame, and showers me with praise for my work, and tells me it doesn’t need to be changed.

It’s in draft one, has zero edits, and you can tell. It’s riddled with grammatical errors and continuity plot holes, and the characters are all distinctively unlikable and smell like cheese.

But hey, who am I gonna trust – the deific Literary Agent who has never wanted anything to do with me, or this troll called Self Publishing who will take my novel sight unseen and publish it automatically for all 4 of my fans to purchase? I give my novel away to the troll, and never bother editing it, never bother improving it to something that might actually be good.

See, I know myself well enough to know that if I consider self-publishing, I will take a novel in any stage of completion and push it through just to have something out there. However, when there’s this intangible God creature called the Literary Agent in the sky, whose approval I must seek, I work my ass off trying to make my work as shiny of a turd as possible. And that’s why I can’t self-publish, even though it might make sense for a writer in my position, even though I could possibly be surprised by how much my book sells, even if it were to actually help me get a legitimate publishing deal somewhere down the line.

Now, here’s what I’m going to do for my current writing project, because I’m low key pretty sad about not getting any publisher interest for my last one. When it’s done, and I mean as done as humanly possible for me, I’m going to send it off to several publishers, and if I don’t get any interest, I’m going to self publish, because at that point it will be as good as it can possibly get, and I might as well get it out there.

But I just wanted to post this in case there are others out there like me, who think they’re crazy for choosing to take the long path, the one filled with bumps and unnecessary detours and dead ends, to get to the same place of “writing literacy.”

You know, there was another dude who took the road less traveled by. He turned out to be a writer, too.

(Because what I said just makes total sense.)

Yours, thinking himself wittier than he actually is,

-R.R. Buck

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