The following is an excerpt from my debut novel, 99 Erics: a Kat Cataclysm faux novel — a silly, surreal, sex-positive tale about a bisexual female absurdist short fiction writer who dates ninety-nine different people named Eric for literature’s sake. By day, Kat pens listicles for a BuzzFeed-like tech company called CliqueClick. In this chapter, she shares her thoughts (and mine) about writing tips . . .
Back in “the good ol’ days” — which, by most accounts, were actually quite horrific for large swaths of the population — there were just a few basic holidays: the big religious ones like Christmas and Easter (which conveniently happen to fall right around previously existing pagan celebrations) and the big national holidays such as Thanksgiving, 4th of July, and such. Over time, additional days were set aside to memorialize various people and movements: Presidents Day, Veterans Day, Labor Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and so on. But in recent years, things have got completely out of hand. Now there is Talk Like a Pirate Day; Wear a Bracelet to Work Week; National Tinned Anchovies Month; you name it!
Within writer’s circles, November has increasingly become known as National Novel Writing Month (or “NaNoWriMo”), in which amateur and professional writers alike attempt to churn out a first draft of their new novel in a mere thirty days, whilst simultaneously chronicling their experiences online. With November approaching, Grant (head of CliqueClick’s Word Repurposing Department) encouraged me to write a listicle to coincide with this not-so-momentous occasion. You know, something along the lines of “19 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block,” or “29 Mistakes Novelists Should Avoid Making,” or “41 Writing Tips from Famous Authors.”
But if I were to write a listicle along this line, I’d be inclined to call it: “The One and Only Writing Tip You Will Ever Need!” Sadly, Grant immediately vetoed this idea, primarily on the basis that the number 1 is not considered to be a prime number, so we’d lose all those extra click-throughs. But this makes absolutely no sense to me! After all, the number 1 is only divisible by 1 and itself — which is the defining definition of prime numbers! That, along with being a positive integer, which the number 1 most certainly is. But Grant just babbled on and on about how “being greater than 1” is yet another criterion for prime numbers. Which seems like such an arbitrary rule to me. I mean, clearly that rule exists for the sole purpose of singling out the number 1 for exclusion!
This is yet another example of mathematics being oppressive and not treating all numbers equally.
I’m sure that my mathematically inclined readers are totally with me on this. But those of you who are more on the verbal side of the spectrum (if it even is a spectrum — for all I know, it could be some kind of multi-dimensional coordinate system) probably don’t give a rat’s ass about prime numbers. Instead, you might be more curious about what my “One and Only Writing Tip You Will Ever Need!” would be.
Well, here it is: Don’t listen to anyone else’s writing tips!
See, writing is a lot like politics or attraction, in that people are going to fall all over the map with regards to what they like or dislike. Some readers will enjoy the dense academic prose of a Victorian Era Macroeconomics treatise. Others may prefer the light reading and chaste romance of a YA dystopian novel, or the graphic sex scenes and theological questioning of a Best Atheist & Agnostic Bisexual Women’s Erotica anthology. On top of that, some readers will inevitably be annoyed by your use of the word “whilst,” or they may find the word “yellow” offensive, or feel like you’re butchering the English language if you use words like “like” and “verbatim” in unconventional ways.
As the saying goes: You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please them all.
Or something like that.
The purpose of writing is to communicate ideas with other human beings. So long as whatever you write reaches and resonates with some people, then you are doing your job right. Or well enough, at least. But some writers fail to appreciate this. And in providing writing tips, they will go far beyond offering suggestions about how to communicate effectively, and veer into the territory of cut-and-dried, hard-and-fast writing rules.
For example, many famous authors have encouraged other writers to “kill” adverbs, or have described adverbs as “plagues,” “mortal sins,” and the “road to hell.” Seriously, are we supposed to entirely eradicate one of the eight parts of speech? While we’re at it, why not get rid of prepositions? Or conjunctions? Or adjectives? Speaking of the latter, adverb-haters who abhor words like “suddenly” or “slowly” usually won’t take issue if you use the adjectives like “sudden” or “slow.” In fact, most adverbs are basically just adjectives with the suffix “–ly” tacked onto the end! And I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that adding vowels (often Ys) to the ends of masculine or neutral words has the effect of turning them into feminine or diminutive ones. In other words, this hatred of adverbs (especially of the “–ly” variety) seems largely driven by implicit sexism and ageism! Which means that language — much like math — is also oppressive and promoting inequalities!
Here is another example of an arbitrary and over the top writing rule: Kurt Vonnegut urged writers not to use semicolons under any circumstances, because he believed that they were “transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.” For starters, I’m pretty sure “transvestite hermaphrodites” are not an actual thing. Unless of course, there are some non-apophallized banana slugs out there who have a penchant for wearing clothing associated with aphallic banana slugs. Second, even if there were such a thing as “transvestite hermaphrodites,” they would by necessity represent something. At the very least, they would represent crossdressing banana slugs. Or (if Vonnegut’s assertion is correct) they might represent semicolons. This is basic linguistics people — the signifier and the signified — get with the program Vonnegut!
Thirdly (which, despite being an actual English word employed correctly here, some writers will surely chide me for using, along with my use of the words “correctly” and “surely” just then), semicolons themselves also represent something — namely, a pause or break in a sentence that is more pronounced than that provided by a comma.
I have no qualms with Vonnegut disliking or detesting semicolons (and everything that they may or may not stand for), and he has every right to profess that as his personal preference. But where does he get off telling other writers what they should or shouldn’t be doing? For fuck’s sake, Vonnegut inserted a picture of his asshole into the text of his novel Breakfast of Champions. And it wasn’t even a halfway decent picture of his asshole either! It pretty much just looked like an asterisk.
As the saying goes: People who live in glass houses made out of poorly drawn assholes should not throw stones at punctuation marks that may or may not represent crossdressed banana slugs.
Or something like that.
You can learn more about 99 Erics via that link. And you can read excerpts from four other chapters — Ethical Slut vs. Confused Slut, Posers, Lady Parts, and Banana Slug of a Different Color — right here on Medium!