Living in a world where most writers suck

I received an email last week from an editor of a well-known online magazine. Said editor was venting about online submissions, and how the slush pile was overwhelming her because it was "too easy" for horrible writers to send in their stories.

The worst part, she said, were all the submissions from new writers who couldn't write. According to this editor (and here I'm paraphrasing), these new writers have not been taught proper grammar, can't be bothered with correct spelling, believe video games and bad movies are plausible inspirations for plots and characters, and see fanfic as not only fun but a legit way to become an author.

I should note this editor was venting in private, and said I could write about our conversation as long as I didn't identify her or her magazine. I also don't agree with her assessment--her critique treads too much toward an over-generalized complaint about younger generations being bad writers. I find bad writing to be cross-generational and not caused by someone loving video games or fanfic. If you turned Shakespeare loose on gaming or fanfic, he'd likely come up with some great stories.

He'd also come up with some horrible stories--don't forget that before Shakespeare wrote Hamlet he penned Titus Andronicus, a play so bad Harold Bloom claimed it could only be enjoyed if directed by Mel Brooks. Which is the other reason I'm not overly worried about the writing ability of new writers. A new writer who produces bad stories might simply need more practice before blossoming into a 21st-century Shakespeare.

Still, this is an interesting insight into the mind of an editor selecting stories for publication, and actually ties in with something I blogged about last month, which is that if you write a very good story you have a decent chance of having it published. The truth is most fiction submissions suck like a gasping chest wound. Editors usually only read a few paragraphs of such suck before flushing these abominations down the rejection drain.

Don't believe this? See Sturgeon's Law for a refresher course in crud.

But if you actually write a good story, odds are you'll eventually land a publication. And this applies to new writers, established writers, and every writer in between.

This also makes be wonder about the writers who simply don't get it. Those whose writing doesn't improve with practice. Who embrace the truth of Sturgeon's Law like a long-spurned lover. When I worked as an editor I met and read the stories of far too many writers who believed they had the right stuff. Never mind that these "writers" couldn't tell a cliche like "right stuff" from the wrong stuff, and wrote as if their secret desire was for their readers to commit ink-stained seppuku. But each one was still absolutely certain he or she was destined for literary greatness.

We've all met writers like these. They're on every writing forum and in every writing group. When they discover you write fiction, they pull out their self-published epic fantasy about a humble garbageman discovering a ring of power ... and ask if you'll review it. You try cutting them down with the machine gun of criticism and they overwhelm you like a hoard of librarian zombies out for literary brains.

And I think that's what my editor friend was getting at. As someone on the front lines of publishing, she feels overrun by writers who refuse to learn sound storytelling techniques. Who don't try to improve with every story they write. Who dabble in the cliched and the hack-worn, and look at honest feedback as a poisonous snake about to strike.

Naturally I pointed this out to my friend. I mentioned Sturgeon's Law. I said this was how fiction writing had always been. That's most writers simply suck. That this fact would never change, and she had to get over it.

Her response? That thanks to the internet, these bad writers have the ability to spam her with their horrible visions of suckiness, so she doesn't care if they've always been around. She simply wants the pain to stop!

As you can imagine, the conversation between me and my editor friend never reached a hand-holding, huggie-huggie moment. Personally, I love online submissions, but it's obvious my friend thinks they open the door to a great stinking mass of bad writing. I also subscribe wholeheartedly to Sturgeon's Law. While my friend understands the law, I suspect she'll only be happy after personally shooting every bad writer in the world for wasting her time with submissions.

Guess that's enough rambling about all this.  In fact, I can't even say what the point of this essay is, except to note that we live in a world where most writers suck. And if you let that get to you, you are in for a long, painful spell of slush pile hell.