An Opposing View of My Writing

Jim Valvis, longtime online journaler, calls me a bad writer here. It follows an exchange of comments in my Me Rite Guud comment thread.

Here’s my favorite graph in Jim’s essay:

“My debating friend may think he’s a writing polymath, but he’s not. He’s simply writing his corporate brochures over and over again, disguised as novels here and poems there and whatever else elsewhere. Anyone interested in writing, especially if he wishes to write in more than one genre, should caution himself against this guy’s example. Each kind of writing is its own skill to master—and you will have to struggle to learn each as if they are different things, because they are. But take heart. Even if you master one, just one, you’ll be a far better writer than my know-it-all-poorly and do-it-all-badly friend will ever be.”

The crux of the issue is that Jim believes that fields of writing are rather separate and that the skills one learns and uses in one field are not necessarily applicable in any other writing field; whereas I believe that skills you learn in one writing field are often applicable in other fields. Aside from Jim’s personal opinion of my writing (which, incidentally, is entirely unsurprising; my only defense to his position I do it all badly is that my various publishers and clients appear largely to disagree), his position is an interesting point of view. It’s an interesting point of view which I happen to think is stupid, inefficient and wrong, mind you, but interesting nevertheless.

Objectively speaking, it’s difficult to say which of our opinions has more “truth” to it; the process of writing is different for each person and I tend to think that the right process is the process that works for you. The argument I can make for my point of view being useful is that I have books and novels sold and/or in the bookstore, and I make a very good living doing all sorts of different writing for all sorts of different people. So I know purely on a practical level that my opinion is based on a practice that works. This is why I suggest it to others. You’ll have to ask Jim what practical application his writing philosophy has had for him.

31 Comments on “An Opposing View of My Writing”

  1. *blink* “Friend”? Dude. He’s got some funky ideas about friends, no?

    I *like* your writing. Mr. Valvis’s longwinded screed might be an interesting point of view, but at the end of the day, it’s not the philosophy behind the writing that matters. It’s whether or not your audience appreciates it.

  2. Ah, judging from his little blog thingy there and his recent editorial for “Thunder Sandwich” (*sigh*) he thinks he’s more ‘core than you. I’m sure you’ll be troubled by this, until about the time you need to go grocery shopping…

  3. Well, undoubtedly Jim feels he’s more ‘core than me since I do it all badly. However, if being ‘core means guest-editing a ‘zine whose payment is “the joy of seeing your creation displayed along with those of other like-minded individuals,” he’s welcome to it. I myself prefer the joy of seeing my creation displayed with those of other like-minded individuals, plus cash.

  4. I don’t get it. If he thinks you are a hack, why is he reading things written by you?

  5. Hmph. I make a living writing too. It looks like this:

    if ( index < maximum ) {
    display “Index less than maximum”
    } // if
    else {
    display “Maximum reached”
    } // else

    … I think you get the idea …

    Lots of people review my “writing”, some like it, some don’t. I get “advice” regarding where I put the {}’s, and what I put in my comments. I know my code works – and more importantly it is supportable.

    Most importantly, the writing I do makes me money. I couldn’t care less about the “like-minded individuals” – just the cash. LOL

  6. _Jon writes:

    “if ( index < maximum ) {
    display “Index less than maximum”
    } // if
    else {
    display “Maximum reached”
    } // else”

    You should submit that to Thunder Sandwich.

  7. Heh. In any case I’m pretty sure any ‘core points are revoked when you add the words “plus cash” :-)

    I can’t believe I missed the initial bruhaha(hahahahahaha)–being on the reading end of term papers gives you a different perspective on the importance style vs. structure :-)

  8. The ability to write a corporate brochure does not necessarily mean the writer has the ability to write a novel. Both require the ability to write sentences, but a different set of skills are needed for each. However, if it came down to a bet, I’d lay odds on the writer, if only because in order to communicate effectively, he needs to master the material first.

    Valvis is correct in that writing a story doesn’t necessarily involve writing down what happens. The story has to be shaped for dramatic impact, facts have to be revealed and withheld for maximum impact. This is particularly necessary in the mystery or suspense genres; “Psycho” would not nearly be as impressive if we knew all about Norman Bates when we first meet him).

    Fiction, someone said, is life with the dull parts removed. I’m editing a manuscript that’s part of a two-book series, already sold to a New York publisher, and the writer hasn’t quite learned this yet. Obviously, the book was good enough to make the sale, but as I told the writer, it definitely needed another draft. Easily 10 percent of it could be removed, and the result would be a better story.

    But Jim’s screed (shame on him for not naming or linking to you) reminds me of a story. I regret to say I can’t quote this exactly, so please excuse my retelling. Bernard Shaw once appeared on stage after the debut of his play to receive the plaudits of the audience after his play when someone shouted over the applause, “Shaw, your play stinks!”

    “I agree with you,” Shaw replied happily. “But we are outnumbered by the audience.”

  9. He does go on, now, doesn’t he?

    Both of my parents were writers. My dad wrote nonfiction for Harper & Row, my mom wrote fiction for a number of different houses. Between them they had dozens of books and hundreds (if not thousands) of articles/short-stories published. Their definition of a successful writer was pretty simple – if the would-be writer gets to cash checks from a publisher, then they are successful. That’s it. Anything else is just posing.

  10. I’ve noticed three things about this joker:

    a.) He has absolutely no idea of what it means to get to the point quickly.

    b.) He is similarly unfamiliar with the concept of redundancy. He does not know how to make a point in such a way that he doesn’t need to repeat himself. He says the same thing over and over. He repeats him self interminably. Furthermore and in closing, he sounds like a broken record.

    c.) He’s a self-important, self-righteous tool. Plus, he’s exactly what’s wrong with much contemporary “litritchure.”

    Who IS this guy? Does he do anything other than his long-winded blog?


    p.s. John, just in case he got to you even the tiniest bit, please allow me to make the unnecessary observation that you’re a truly fantastic writer. One of my favorites, truly, and I’m not just saying that because you send people to my tunes.

  11. “Of course, there’s no use telling someone that pigheaded he’s wrong.

    – I especially liked this part.

    It’s also quite weird he consistantly says “my debating friend”, never specifically quotes anything, and doesn’t provide a link to what he’s commenting on. I thought it was the unwritten law of blogs of any sort that you always linked to whatever you were talking about.

  12. We found no matches for Jim Valvis. Below are results for jim davis.

    Amazon say’s it all

    More importantly, your most recently published work is in the hands of the 119th Military Police Company in Iraq, working it’s way through the 3rd platoon. My buddies needed some nice enlightening stuff to read.

  13. Tom: Cool! I would imagine that in Iraq, they’ve got some nice clear skies at night to look at the stars. That’s really neat.

    Terry: He didn’t name me or link here in part because he thought it best not to “out” the writer about which he was writing. So I self-outed.

  14. “…every person speaks differently, every person on the planet.”

    Wow…that’s really deep!

    As for his argument, I do agree that successful writing in one genre doesn’t necessarily lead to successful writing in another. In my job, I write computer documentation, and I get paid a nice wage to do so. I have no desire to write fiction. Frankly, I suck at it. On the other hand, at least I know how to put a sentence together and inform people, so I would probably be more successful at it than someone who didn’t have the basic grasp of grammar.

    And for what it’s worth, I enjoyed OMW very much, and think you’re a fine writer of both fiction and what I read here every day. Valvis who?

  15. Kerry writes:

    “I do agree that successful writing in one genre doesn’t necessarily lead to successful writing in another.”

    Yup. I’d agree with that too, of course. However the converse does not follow: Just because one is successful in one field doesn’t mean one cannot be successful in other fields as well. Likewise, the skills on learns in one discipline do not have to be entirely confined to that one area; they can be used in other fields.

  16. Why is his name so familiar, John? Has he been haunting the online world for years? I have this rumbling, subterranean recollection of a Valvis popping up in some bronze age version of the net…

  17. He’s been online for a while. He’s had run-ins with other online writers (and writers online) about various things. It’s part of that whole “high school lunchroom” social dynamic that affects online journalers and bloggers as a class (so to speak). I should hasten to add that he’s far from the only person to have these sort of tiffs. Heck, go back far enough in Google groups and you’ll find newsgroup postings from yours truly having pointless but amusing spat with a fellow named Elliot McGucken. It’s endemic to the medium.

  18. It’s funny that he uses the phrase ‘corporate brochures’ 8 times in his article. Seems that this guy has a chigger in his butt over ‘artistic’ writing versus ‘commercial’ writing. He has the mind of a critic, meaning that he can manage to find fault with something he cannot achieve himself. People rarely get this worked up unless they have a personal stake. He seems to want to associate himself with the perceived prestige of ‘artistic’ writing and resents a ‘hack’ that manages to make money.

    All I can say is that my favourite author is Robert Heinlein, all of his characters sound like him, and he still managed the earn the title of Grand Master of Science Fiction.

    I’d rather read an entertaining story than a lesson in allegory or symbolism. Let him be the aspiring James Joyce. I’ll stick to Heinlein and the storytellers.

  19. I read this gentleman’s screed and I observed two things.

    He never mentions or quotes the article that he criticizes. This allows him to exagerate the points made in the “me rite guud” article in order to support his own thesis. In my view, anyone who distorts your argument in order to criticize it probably hasn’t got a good argument to begin with.

    He also has a real fascination with dialog. I am not sure whether I would ever want to read any of this guys fiction as he never mentions interesting characters, nor does he mention interesting settings as a central part of fiction; read Michael Moorcock on his views of both. There are lots of writers who write bad dialog, but right great novels; my favourite is J.R.R. Tolkien.

    Whether Mr. Scalzi is a good novelist is beyond me. I have not read any of his novels, although I probably will pick up “Old Man War” when it comes out to see it. I know his writing is good enough to make me come back each day.


  20. Reminds me of something Orson Scott Card wrote (can’t remember where) about clarity over style. OSC has also gone on at length (some might say ad nauseum) about the “intellectual elite” and “art vs. Art.” Interesting–and, I would assert, not unrelated–is the fact that OSC himself writes in a wide variety of formats: Novels, short stories, epic poetry, essay and commentary, stage plays, screenplays, and musicals. I’ve not read everything he’s written, but from all accounts he does nearly all these things quite well. And didn’t he write tech manuals for a PC company at one time or something? I know he used to have a game column in Compute! back in the day.


  21. Geez the guy is a blowhard!

    I read the first paragraph, the starting sentences of a few more, and then just gave up.

    MORE is not BETTER.

  22. I like Jim’s writing. And I like yours, John. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. You’re both good at quite different things: I like your snappy entertaining novels and I like Jim’s measured poems. So don’t be too harsh on the chap, folks.

  23. I feel so good, sitting here safe with the knowledge that my writing career (opinion essays, non-fiction how-to, short fiction, short and long form screenplays, teleplays, commercials…) would give Jim Valvis fits. Funnily enough, the money from the fiction is just as green as the money from the screenplays.

  24. Let me get this straight – Valvis criticized your writing? I refer you to this section of his:

    ” Different economic backgrounds definitely speak differently. Different races speak differently. Different genders speak differently. Different religions speak differently. Different sports fans speak differently. And so on forever. What it amounts to is that every person speaks differently, every person on the planet.”

    Alert the world: economic backgrounds have acquired the ability to speak. I’m a little pissed at my son for sending me to that self indulgent, uninspired and very poorly articulated piece. I thank him, though, for re-introducing me to you, John.

  25. Rick, you may remember the man from a tiff a few years ago that began with an essay by Valvis claiming that online journal writing was not only not going to improve anyone’s writing but was in fact detrimental to a writer’s ability to write quality fiction or become marketable. Needless to say, this precipitated a firestorm.

    Seems to me he’s still banging on the same drum. And he’s dead wrong, as usual. My screenwriting has informed my novel structure. My creative nonfiction has informed my novel style. My short stories have been crucial for learning tone and how to say things indirectly. Etc. Different forms feed into a writer’s overall knowledge base and skill level.

    Maybe he simply doesn’t like your writing style, John. Maybe it’s not florid enough for him.

  26. Ain’t we all blessed, in these days, in this country, where we all live today, with our running water, a hot faucet on one side of the plumbing, to booth, and our electricity to power our gagets. Makes you almost glad that you pay taxes. John–you and Jim, if you don’t mind being mentioning, together, in the same sentence, are just plain good writers. How do you guys do it? You have a heavy schedule. Likewise, Jimmy V., the last I checked his blog, was scrutinizing his pop while the elder was mowing the grass that grew directly on top of a cesspool, Jimmy’s inquiry, seemingly for the fact that the very grass was the only grass that grew on the ground within a square mile of existentialism. All this, he so observed, while sitting on top of a flagpole. If Jim, so be he your guilding light, then perhaps one day, you should chip in for the batteries. Nevertheless (actually), Jim is a good writer. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been around for so long. The fact that he blogs under the https.Net banner, attests to his staying power. Therefore, Jim is beyond reproach by lesser writers (only a king can kill a king/Alex the Great; only a poodle can bark at another poodle/your college writing professor). It awes me as to how you still have any energy left over, after you and Jim finish taking batting practice at each other. But it is the season, I guess. Also note worthy, I know that this WHATEVER blog is not the daily bread which pays for the mortgage or buys the cat-chow, so, I gather, that these debates are more akin to MREs or warm-up exercises, than they are staples like your successful line of mugs and t-shirts, minus the flattery. Furthermore, is “Jim” a guud name for a cat?

  27. That guy’s article left me with an intellectual hangover. What a longwinded, self important, pompus ass he is! John, if your writing is bad, I wanna be a well paid bad writer like you. While you are also self important and pompous, you are almost never an ass or long winded.. hehe..


  28. Let’s just call it as it is: the guy’s jealous. He’s jealous, and he’s a dick-smack. There, end of discussion…

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