Jan 272011

As a fledgling novelist and BookNet virgin, I became seriously depressed by dg’s recent NC post (“When Sales Data Drive Publishing Decisions: The BookNet Dictatorship by Stephen Henighan at Geist”).  Just thinking about a ‘literature sales data program’ squeezed the creative juice out of my whole day.  I couldn’t write a word.  Then I stumbled across a hopeful voice offering: “New Rules for Writers: Ignore Publicity, Shun Crowds, Refuse Recognition and More,” by Anis Shivani* published in the Huffington Post.  His new rules are based on the premise that “writers aren’t forged in social harmony and peer input and obedient fellowship, but in a region where madmen and insomniacs find no comfort.”

“These “rules” totally go against every prescription for writing success you’ll hear as a young writer from all quarters: the conformity-driven MFA system, the publishing industry’s hype-machine, successful writers who act either like prima donnas or untouchable mystics, the marketing experts who seek to impose advertising rules on the writing product. Overpaid editors, illiterate agents, arrogant gatekeepers, and stupid reviewers want you to bargain away your soul for a pittance — the bids in the market escalate downward, a reverse auction where you compete with the lowest of the low to be acknowledged as an entity that counts.”

Shivani lists ten rules.  Many go against the typical advice given to emerging fiction writers like myself, but somehow feel truer.  Others I can’t exactly abide, like “Converse Only with the Classics.”  Ignore Shivani’s hyperbole and glean what you can. I intend to follow rule number four: Seek Unemployment.

—Wendy Voorsanger

* Anis Shivani is the author of the short story collection, Anatolia and Other Stories, published by Black Lawrence Press. Booklist describes the collection as “extraordinary” and “caustically funny.” The collection has been long listed for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award and one of the stories–”Dubai”–was awarded Special Mention for the Pushcart Prize.

  6 Responses to “The New Ten Commandments For Writers By Wendy Voorsanger”

  1. Oh my…and I write those two words with no apology….finally I
    have attained the key ingredient. Unemployment. Little did i know how fabulous it could be for
    generating enough adrenalin to bypass the reptilian brain that
    is forever trapping those tiny winged imaginings moments before
    fluttering into prose and batting them about until one has inhaled the lost feathers that would have taken one soaring into the heart
    of our most enriching stories: Tales of The Backside of God and preventing us from writing them. The fact that I am writing as “one” and “us” is proof of those altering powers. Thank you Wendy Wvoor Singing The Unsung Song. Sent from the desk of the caffeine deprived.

  2. Earlier today a northern California woman was arrested
    for taking a dust pan to a cat who refused to release
    a small yellow finch from its jaws. The cat had taken
    the bird into the house through the cat door, When
    the police were notified that a woman was battering
    a cat with a turquoise dust pan and a mismatching
    blue whisk broom, they neglected to investigate the
    extenuating circumstances leading up to the crime.
    Had they done so, they would have arrested the cat
    for sneaking a bird through the cat door which is
    against all regulations in the Homeland Security
    policies being followed at this time. Even after
    the woman phoned her attorney and reported her
    false imprisonment, she was not given sound council.
    After a few questions by her attorney (court appointed),
    the woman confessed to having been twice suspected
    of smuggling weapons through airports. Twice
    within the last three months. Given her obvious
    suspicious behavior, the cat’s felony of sneaking
    a yellow bird into the house was considered small
    and insignificant. Furthermore, the use of a
    dust pan against an unarmed cat is considered,
    by law, as evidence of instability. However,
    when questioned further, the woman revealed
    her position in life as that of a fiction writer and
    divulged being under the influence of propaganda
    being disseminated by an unknown Luddite by
    the name of [censored] affiliated with an online
    publication – police would not release name of
    said publication – and that she had been high on
    unemployment at the time and desperate for
    a story. She was released on her own recognizance
    and chained to her computer.

  3. It’d be a lot easier to take these commandments seriously if their creator hadn’t gone to Harvard and published in bunch of the usual MFA-loving litmags.

    • Ad hominem, Court.

      • You’re right. But still, he’s basically telling young writers, “Screw the system,” when he is both product of, and has benefited from, that very system. I’d be very curious to see how he would explain how he balances those tensions.

        Some of the comments in wondered if the whole article wasn’t just maybe a piece of satire. Maybe that’s what is going on.

        • I’m in the same boat. This seems like it’s presented as “the answer” for young writers, and as one of those “young writers” myself, much of it is (on some level) appealing, but there are a few too many dots that don’t quite connect. Hmm.

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