Ask the Book Doctor
By Bobbie Christmas
Ask the Book Doctor: About Writing for a Living in Dumbed-Down America
Q: I'm a teacher. This year the job is more demanding then ever. I really want to know if my novel is marketable and whether I should continue to consider creative writing as a replacement career for teaching.
A: I haven't seen your manuscript, so I'm speaking in generalities; I have no idea of your skill level. Consider creative writing as a potential way to produce supplemental income at first, rather than thinking of it as a replacement career.
We can't all be like J.K. Rowling and produce hits like the Harry Potter series. Only a few people can rely on creative writing to supply a reliable income, but many of us supplement our income with creative writing. I, for instance, sell my writing, but I also edit the work of others, which keeps a roof over my head and helps other writers, while I work with the raw materials I love: words.
Q: I have read your book, Write In Style for the umpteenth time, and now I ask myself, why do I want to write?
It seems that your clues for writing in style are related to getting published, which includes the objective of appealing to the readers of today, which in turn means appealing to a dumbed-down America with a shortening attention span; e.g., the guideline that seventy percent should be dialogue and not using long or unusual words. How do I fly high on the wings of words?
I spent two or so years on and off in New Zealand, where one of the joys is the richness of vocabulary used by everyday people, people who also sit in their living rooms and listen to classical music on the radio.
Admittedly, dialogue makes for easier, and perhaps more entertaining, reading, but is that my primary goal in writing?
I know what I don't want, so maybe that helps a bit. I've decided I'm not interested in celebrity simply for the sake of celebrity, or wealth from such type of celebrity. I want to write because I want my thoughts and experiences to be recorded for others to read. It is important to me, however, that I write well, beautifully, if possible. I want to be respected for my craftsmanship with words. I want to write sentences that are good prose. Along those lines, I am seriously thinking of self-publishing. Whatever I decide to do, I will certainly employ you for guidance and comment.
A: Your experience in New Zealand is similar to mine in Australia, where I became thoroughly impressed with the Aussies' reading level, interest in current events, and ability to indulge in fascinating and elevated discussions. My first trip there took place in the 1980s, and I've been back two more times. I always return with a sense of wonder and a bit of shame over America. Australians get a better education than we do. Their use of language (even slang) is much richer than ours. Their sense of humor is more highly developed—even their newspaper articles are funnier. Needless to say, their literature is divine, compared to ours. Isn't it fascinating that Australians do not live up to the beer-guzzling, ignorant crocodile-hunting stereotype we set up for them?
Do not give up on writing for America, though, because America still publishes some literary works, a term it uses to distinguish well-written works from contemporary works. The saying goes that the difference between literary writing and contemporary writing is that contemporary writing sells, while literary writing gets awards.
Why do you write? Only you can answer, but real writers cannot stop writing, no matter how dismal the environment, no matter how sad the market looks, and no matter how small our chances of getting published may be. As a result, we learn, grow, improve, and enjoy the process, and in the end, many of us do get published, whether our works are literary or contemporary.
–Send your questions to Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas for a personal answer. Contact her at Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more "Ask the Book Doctor" questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.