Are We Not Men?

While unavoidable personal circumstances have reduced the periodic percolation of new content on this blog to a mere unusual ooze, I will not insult you with any claim that I’m pursuing instead a plan to restore both Ukrainian unity and Wonder Woman’s starring role in the upcoming Avenger’s movie with a single email to Putin, cc’d to Joss Whedon (though this may well prove true with time). Just a bit busy, is all.20140423-141726.jpg

This is not a problem with my internal wiring. Though, lately–many people I know are having problems with their intellectual busses. Their bandwidth, it seems, is suddenly inadequate to allow them to respond to calls/texts/emails/hails from across the street in a timely fashion. I was recently astonished to read that this new bioelectronic cyborgian malady has even affected the august annals of The Economist ( Didn’t know we were recently obsoleted. I await an upgrade. With greater bandwidth.

Professionals Perform

It should be obvious to anyone who reads this blog that I am not a professional author.  I have never made such a claim, despite the fact that I’ve written a bit.  I’ve traditionally published nonfiction with McGraw-Hill, I’ve edited quite a bit of nonfiction, and lately I’ve independently authored/published two novels.  And I write this blog which, I hope, occasionally doesn’t suck.  All of which does not make me a professional author.  I am a surgeon, and I write.  But I am a professional surgeon, and I am not, in any manner of speaking, a professional writer.IMG_1114

I make this point as a matter of introduction. I read a bit about writing, since it is my hobby.  Nobody who dabbles in this business can possibly miss the current controversy surrounding the seismic changes occurring in the publishing industry.  The recent changes have allowed anyone with a computer to publish a book.  I am, as I mentioned, a case in point.  This has led to a great deal of distress on the part of the established publication industry, exactly paralleling the cataclysm which struck the traditional music industry a little over a decade ago.  No surprise there.  What is unique to this authorship revolution, however, is the angst that this revolution has created amongst professional authors.  A case in point–

I recently read the blog post of Chuck Wendig at Terrible entitled:

feb, 2014

 At the risk of oversimplifying Mr. Wendig’s lengthy blog post, the gist of the problem as he sees it is that now that the barriers to publication have been dismantled, so many people are publishing so much bad literature that it is making it hard for readers to discover quality books and, in addition, that this lack of quality may lead to a backlash against independently published work.  This is a point that Mr. Wendig has made many times and is a point made by many concerned professionals in the field.

I don’t agree.

Oh, I wholeheartedly agree that we are currently experiencing an unprecedented wave of terrible, awful, self-published books.  Just like we’ve recently seen a surge of mega-best selling traditionally published dreck.  Nothing new there.  But I disagree with Mr. Wendig that this is a problem.  It sounds an awful lot like, “Those damn kids with their rock and roll are ruining all the good music for the rest of us.”  I don’t think Mr. Wendig has to worry so much.

You see, Mr. Wendig, you are a professional writer.  You dedicate all your professional energies to your craft, which is your job, which earns you a living so that you can put food on your family’s table.  That is not what I or these other yahoos spouting “the self-publishing shit volcano” do.  We dabble.  We emulate.  And very often, we suck.

You should be encouraged by this fact.  You should revel in the great discrepancy between your work and mine.  Trust me, if you decided to take up general surgery as a hobby and start taking out a few gallbladders on your kitchen table just for kicks, I’m not worried.  You are never going to approach my skill or professionalism in this endeavor.  If you can convince some folks that your hobby-level gallbladder removing skills are good enough to get a few people to lay down for a cut-rate cholecystectomy, I’m not feeling threatened.

Your job, Mr. Wendig, is to be so much better than the rabble that your professionalism makes you stand out above the crowd.  Your job, is to make sure that your work is valued and valuable, marketed in a manner that the audience/consumer finds desirable.  The music industry analogy is perfectly apt.  Believe me, Bruce Springsteen isn’t too worried that I can put out an album on iTunes using Garage Band.  However, quite a few million music lovers got a little ticked off when Springsteen’s albums were costing $18 a pop for a CD that cost thirty cents to make.  A lot of folks couldn’t afford $100 for a ticket to a concert in Madison Square Garden.  That’s when we all started to look around and realize that the bands playing at the local theater for $10 really were pretty damn talented.  So we went to see them perform, instead.  And then we bought their albums, instead.

So Mr. Wendig, don’t worry that most self-published books are terrible.  Just be professional. Worry when we start getting good at this stuff. 

You, Too Can Be a Writer!

~first posted 21 Dec 12

I’m sorry, but I am of the opinion that writing is not all that difficult. I know, that sounds wrong. We are all avid readers, we live in awe of the great books we have read over the years. As individuals and as a society, we pay great respect to our authors. They are constantly on Fresh Air, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Sixty Minutes–hell, they’re everywhere. It’s like they’re superstars, even though most are not all that photogenic and many mumble a lot. But we love them, one and all.IMG_0641

We love them, even though what they do isn’t all that difficult. I presume that they are caught up in the whole cult of the mysterious, creative artist thing we have in this country (though not to the degree they have it in France, say, or Sedona). I can assure you, however, that what you do for a living every day is much more difficult, and I say that without being completely certain what it is that you do. It’s easier, believe me. I bet that at your job, you don’t get to show up whenever you like, take a nap whenever you like (writers call this story development), grab a snack whenever you like. You probably can’t perform your job half-drunk or recovering from a bender (admittedly, I’m making some assumptions here; like you’re not a NY State Supreme Court justice). But the writing part, I hear you protesting, the writing is hard. Actually, it isn’t. If the writer can’t think of the right word, they have all kinds of reference books he can consult to help find it. If you write something really awful, they let you go back and rewrite it as many times as you need to–kind of like going to Yale. Hell, you don’t even have to be a really good speller–chances are they’re going to hire somebody to fix all that stuff anyway. I have to tell you, writing really isn’t all that hard. Certainly a lot easier than trying to get a half-trained surgical resident through the removal of a tumor from some patient’s liver without cutting open something that’ll make a big mess. I know, I’ve done both and believe me, the surgery thing is way harder. And you have to stand through the whole thing.

No, the writing thing is pretty easy. Even the hardest part–the part where you come up with the idea–is pretty straightforward. You’ve done it, I’m sure. You’ve had great ideas for a novel. You’re living with a schnook that’s more of a character than you find in most novels. You may have even lived through one or two things that would make a great story. You’ve told people about it, but mostly while you were pretty drunk at a bar that was so loud that she wasn’t really listening but just nodding and smiling to be nice. You could write a book.

But you haven’t. You should you know. It’s not that hard.