Inflating the lit quotient

I know i’m mostly regurgitating the words of others and contributing little original thought on this blog these days — ’tis the widespread curse of blogging (and often of journalism) in the modern world.

In my defence, it’s an unaccustomed thrill to have a good computer and fast Internet access, so i’ve been ranging widely and indiscriminately in search of reading, amusing and wanking material. (Perhaps you didn’t need to know that last.) I’ll be losing the access soon, so i’m going at it compulsively now.

In the interests of literary pomp, here are a couple of thoughts plucked from the Holt Uncensored blog of SanFran editorial consultant Pat Holt .

One includes a cardinal sin of amateur writing (even among professionals) that runs rampant in small-town scribbling, my own included:

FLAT WRITING
“He wanted to know but couldn’t understand what she had to say, so he waited until she was ready to tell him before asking what she meant.”

Something is conveyed in this sentence, but who cares? The writing is so flat, it just dies on the page. You can’t fix it with a few replacement words — you have to give it depth, texture, character. Here’s another:

“Bob looked at the clock and wondered if he would have time to stop for gas before driving to school to pick up his son after band practice.” True, this could be important — his wife might have hired a private investigator to document Bob’s inability to pick up his son on time — and it could be that making the sentence bland invests it with more tension….  Most of the time, though, a sentence like this acts as filler. It gets us from A to B, all right, but not if we go to the kitchen to make a sandwich and find something else to read when we sit down.

Flat writing is a sign that you’ve lost interest or are intimidated by your own narrative. It shows that you’re veering toward mediocrity, that your brain is fatigued, that you’ve lost your inspiration. So use it as a lesson. When you see flat writing on the page, it’s time to rethink, refuel and rewrite.

And another on the self-inflicted degradation of publishing in general:

That same Page Six mentality that turns the arts into a gossip machine has moved the focus of publishing away from books that are literature and put the spotlight on the authors who create literature. Roth doesn’t mean we’re honoring authors more than books –- quite the contrary. He means we’re exploiting famous authors by writing biographies that deliciously and salaciously accent their hidden pasts, their secret inspirations, their dark side. It’s more lucrative to do that, he says, than to publish serious literary works.

In Roth’s latest novel, “Exit Ghost,” he especially indicts “cultural journalism” as presented and practiced by the New York Times.

“Cultural journalism is tabloid gossip disguised as an interest in ‘the arts,’ ” a character protests in a letter to the Times, “and everything that it touches is contracted into what it is not. Who is the celebrity, what is the price, what is the scandal? What transgression has the writer committed, and not against the exigencies of literary aesthetics but against his or her daughter, son, mother, father, spouse, lover, friend, publisher, or pet?”

I’ve gotta say, i concur. I refuse to be sucked into the cult of celebrity, but it’s so in-the-air that I too would probably piss my pants if i ever by chance shared an elevator with Britney Spears. Though i suppose i’d have to recognize her first.

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