How to Read like a Writer

Every time this subject comes up, I put my foot right in it: it’s only by strangling myself that I can keep my mouth shut.  So.  In the interest of not killing myself, and possibly even not making an ass of myself in multiple conversations, allow me to go off on a topic dear to my heart here, on my blog, which is where all asinine rants belong.  That is, I want to talk about how to read like a writer.  Audience of crickets.

It’s also “how to watch movies like a writer,” and “how to listen to music like a writer,” and even “how to look at visual art as a writer.”  “How to go to a restaurant as a writer.”  “How to evaluate a blender as a writer.”  “How to survive your inlaws as a writer.”

Want to know a mark of a n00b writer?

They go, “I don’t like X, so it’s a piece of crap.”

Go ahead.  You’ll see it everywhere.  You know who gets to say that?  Customers.

Of course customers get to say what they like about a product.  They don’t like it?  Nobody cares: every time someone says your name, a little publicity fairy gets her wings. I had no idea who One Direction or Justin Bieber were until someone made fun of them and prompted me to look them up.

I gave them mental real estate.

When pros talk about other people’s work, they control how that mental real estate is being used.  They acknowledge the qualities that made X grab that real estate, and they work out how they could do the same.  They try to work out what the creators of X were trying for, how they did it, how well they did it, and whether the same technique could be used for a current or future project.

Opinion isn’t worth much without analysis.  When a pro doesn’t like something, they can tell you why–and it isn’t “because Y is better” or “there used to be better X twenty years ago.”

You’ll see that all the time, too.

For a creator, it’s not a question of whether X is better than Y.  Nobody gives a damn.  It’s a question of whether X is the best X it could have been, how to make it better X next time, and how to rip off parts of X to build your next Y.

You might not be able to stomach X.  So stop giving it mental real estate already.  Don’t joke about it, don’t talk about it, don’t badmouth it, don’t use it for comparison to anything else.  No more space, no more power.

If you’re going to talk about X, if you can’t stop talking about X, figure out what X does right.* Go ahead, make fun of X, if you have to.  But you’re acknowledging power.  Every one-star review is a bow to the creator of that product.  Every three-star “meh” is a lie.

Look what they made you do.

There it is.  Now I don’t have to grit my teeth every time someone makes fun of modern art or Twilight or Goosebumps or Michael Bay or LMFAO or Phil Glass or whatever.  Instead, I get to smugly think, “Ah, if only they’d read my blog.  Then they’d know I think they’re being a n00b.” Which, I guess, makes me a n00b.  Because I’m giving them mental real estate.  Letting them get under my skin.

Look what they made me do.


*For me, it’s New Couuntry.  Gah…it’s 80s soft rock with slide guitars.  I still don’t get it, but I’ve been trying to work it out for years.  I’ve come to the conclusion that what we call Country Music is mostly some genre of popular music that’s 20 years old with slide guitars, no matter what era you pick from, so you hit “pop” and “nostalgia” while still being able to write and sell new songs.  I grok people like it because it tells them that they should be proud of themselves.  I don’t like it because it comes across as smug rather than proud, and tells people to be proud of stuff that you really shouldn’t proud of, like cutting your name into your ex’s leather seats.  (Rub two brain cells together and spell “evidence,” will you?)  And hoorah for alcoholism and hating on people who aren’t like you!  But there it is: mental real estate.  I welcome comments about what makes New Country so damn catchy–even trails to theories about what makes pop music in general so damn catchy.

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2 Comments

  1. As both a writer and a Realtor…I’m already writing mental contracts-with attachments-for all that real estate folks like Justin Bieber are taking up in my otherwise hopefully creative brain. Someone has to pay…

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