A Challenge to Members of Gay/Lesbian Writers/Poets (and to Queer Writers Generally)

Readers are consumers of writing. And let’s be honest – today, the marketplace for readers is glutted. In fact, at least three-fourths of the postings in the Gay/Lesbian Writers/Poets group (only one of the writers’ groups to which I belong) are of this variety: Look at this! Check this out! Read my book! Here’s my latest! Like my blog! Buy my eBook! Two for one! Tweet me! Follow me! Win a prize!

In other words, an avalanche of self-referential, auto-generated publicity, all of which raises the question: Is anyone reading, or are we just writing?

More to the point, what makes one of these products stand out over another? What would prompt a reader to “check out” one blog but ignore another, to sample an excerpt from one person’s book but pass over someone else’s?

One foolproof way to make reading decisions is to answer this simple question: Does the writer know how to use the English language? Anyone seeking money (or public recognition) for his or her writing is perforce claiming to be a professional and, because a professional writer’s tool is language, readers have every right to expect that tool to be wielded expertly.

That is why what appears in online LGBTQ writers’ groups is so frequently appalling. Finding examples like these requires no effort at all:

  • “Its never too late to buy a mothers day gift” (instead of “It’s never too late to buy a Mother’s Day gift”).
  • “I will not take it personal” (instead of “I will not take it personally”).
  • “Well its actually my girlfriend and my page” (instead of “Well, it’s actually my girlfriend’s and my page”).
  • “Here’s the link if you interested” (vs. “Here’s the link if you’re interested”).
  • For agreat chance to win these fantastic prizes Enter the A Lunar Courthsip valentines giveaway! All you have to do is simply like the A Lunar Courthsip page between now and Sunday the 10th of Feb to be in with a chance!!!!!!! (“courthsip” — TWICE!; Valentine’s; no clue what “in with a chance” means)
  • “I have only poested upto 13 chapters” (“poested”? “upto”?).
  • “If anyone is interested in sharing their coming out story” (vs. “If anyone is interested in sharing her or his coming out story”).
  • “This is a compilation of poetry that is based on confliction….” (“confliction” was last used in 1868, according to the OED; a “compilation” of poetry is simply called a “collection”).
  • “[A] magazine launching it’s first issue in May” (its).
  • “[M]y giveaways receives several thousand entries” (giveaways receives?).
  • “Provide links ot your work if possible” (ot?).

Or this behemoth, unclear on the difference between a plural and a possessive and bereft of the commas that would buttress its unwieldy clauses:

“Thursday’s decision along with the recent declarations of President Obama and the NAACP’s support towards gay marriage has proved a year already of great progress for gay rights and as many cities across America begin their Pride celebrations starting this coming June, there will be new and renewed freedoms of pride as many gay and lesbian American’s are beginning to find victory towards their fight for equality and civil rights.”

Here’s what decent editing might have done to that paragraph:

“Thursday’s decision, President Obama’s recent declarations, and the NAACP’s support for gay marriage all provide further evidence that major progress has been made toward gay rights in 2012. As Pride celebrations begin in many American cities this June, gay and lesbian Americans have reason to celebrate victory in their fight for equality.”

And then there are the descriptions of what is apparently meant to be creative writing:

In [name of novel], L. desperately wants to find love. Her world turns upside down when [she meets J.], but [there’s more to J.] than L. can imagine” or “[name of novel] is the story of two sexy … studs [whose] relationship challenges unwritten rules…. They find comfort in the arms of each other” (“in one another’s arms,” evidently, was just too trite) or “With her divorce final, S. moves [out of state to find] the freedom and independence denied to her throughout her marriage. What she didn’t expect was meeting the two sexy men next door” or “When [a tragic event takes place] D. finds out that power, responsibility and justice come with a price. Is it a price she’s willing to die for?”

Here’s a better question: Is anyone willing to write anything that is not a cliché?

Or let’s say it with the great Truman Capote: “That’s not writing. That’s typing.”

It’s an epidemic of run-on sentences, commas sprinkled about with the same logic as the placement of poppy seeds on a bagel, and capitalization treated like a public nuisance (many writers are evidently so busy that they cannot spare the six-tenths of a nanosecond required to press the shift key). It’s a plague of pulp novels, a riot of romances (semipornographic humpy summer boyfriend love stories for the guys; overwrought sagas of Sapphic stardust for the gals), and fistfuls of fantasy (because what that genre was truly lacking were gay werewolves, tranny vamps, and homo hobbits).

Writing of this sort delivers a simple message: I am a rank amateur. You cannot rely upon me to wield my most essential tool – the English language – with any skill. I have reached the lowest common denominator, but fear not: I am continuing to dig.

If writers were surgeons, we’d care about that. If they were car mechanics or plumbers, we’d care.

Why don’t we care when it’s “just” writing? And why do we continue to pay for it or (much more baffling) expect others to pay for it?

In the end, this may be the legacy of the great democratic experiment of internet publishing: proof that anyone can write incompetent prose. And brag about it.

But we are here, in part, because of a tradition of lesbian and gay writing that was, particularly in the period beginning in the late 1970s, unprecedented in English-language literature and, indeed, in the world. 

What if we honored that legacy by holding ourselves to uncompromising standards of quality? What if we saw ourselves—we who say we are writers—not as wholesalers of cheap commodities to hordes of Wal*Mart e-consumers, but as people with a culture, of which our literature is a meaningful, honorable, vital manifestation?

What if we quit playing amateur hour and wrote as though writing mattered?

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Posted on 1 June 2012, in Book Reviews & Literaria, English Scorned, Betrayed, and Abused. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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