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Friday, 13 April 2012

If a tree falls in a forest . . . .

Philosophical questions. If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear, does it still make a sound?

And if a writer remains oblivious to all my advice and constructive criticism and carries on in her own inimitable style – is her story still shite?

I tutor someone – let’s call her Daria, who for months now, has submitted chapter after chapter of her novel. I read and make notes, offer suggestions and encouragement. Then I start to notice that despite effusive thanks for my comments, they are being roundly ignored and the next chapter is full of exactly the same problems, overwriting, long sentences that require oxygen to read out loud, plot anomalies, too much description and passive writing.
Daria continues to ignore my suggestions thanking me for my help after each chapter. In a last ditch attempt to get through to her, I write notes in CAPS explaining that if one of your characters breaks a leg she can’t be seen RUNNING in the next chapter. The readers will NOTICE. And since you have built the entire story around the broken leg you can’t go back and change it to a SPLINTER. This too is ignored so I give up and make bland polite remarks.
Then when the final chapter is done she sends me an email thanking me for my help and asking if I will write her a really good review as she is going to send the unrevised, unrewritten and frankly awful book to a publisher. She even suggests words I might like to use in my review. (I have a few in mind but not the ones she is considering.) I am staggered at her brass neck and say I wouldn't give you a good review if there was a gun to my head no.
I go to her website a few days later and find she has a FAQ which includes the question:
How can I find out more about Daria's books?
Go into your local bookshop and demand that they stock them!
No - it is not meant to be ironic.

After I scrape my chin off the floor I can’t help but feel faintly admiring. I would never have the cheek to ask for a rave review. Or even imagine that people have nothing better to do than go to obscure blogs, and feel an urge to march into Waterstones and shout: Hey you – overqualified bookseller! Why aren’t you stocking the books of that fantastically talented author called Daria! I'm not leaving until you do!
Where does my student get her dazzling sense of entitlement? Because if she could tie that to actual writing and rewriting ability she would be unstoppable. Think of all the celebrities out there who have no discernible talent whatsoever but are considered a valuable brand.
But wait! That phrase . . . .actual ability . . . actual ability . . . actual ability . . .
I blink slap myself round the cheek a couple of times and realise that answer to the second question is definitely YES.


Gillian, @look_mama said...

So many today have such huge egos and unrealistic self confidence built from having "kind people" compliment everything they say or do. It's not a kindness. These people end up on TV talent shows and are completely gobsmacked that someone doesn't recognise their out of tune God-awful wailing as The Next Big Thing.

That girl you tutored missed a great opportunity. Silly, silly girl.

Jane said...

@Gillian - I was reading about the comment made by Mary Bousted about how many parents treat their child like a 'little Budhha' - waiting on them hand and foot - never letting them lose or fail or pick up their own pants! Perhaps it starts there.

Paul Pellay said...

Interesting.........from my standpoint it's a similar case when it comes to composers: stories of young composers brazenly disregarding their elders and (presumably) betters' advice are legion - then again, notes do seem to allow for a great deal more latitude than words can........(this applies only to composing, though: it'a VERY different story for performers, of course).

As for your student's action, even "chutzpah" doesn't seem to describe it adequately! Got me the first laugh of the day, that did.........!

The wife of bold said...

Oh this had me laughing out loud deluded Daria is a sign of the times i'm affraid in fact i think i know a few Daria's myself.

Gillian, @look_mama said...

Re Little Buddha > Start there, ends in tears on X-Factor or at the pub whining to all and sundry about how the world has done them wrong.