Authority and Position among Writers

Recently, Stephen King ripped Stephenie Meyer as a poor writer, and it sparked a maelstrom of “controversy” among readers (read: Twilight series fans) around the Internet.

Many felt King attacked Meyer.  He didn’t.  He made a statement about her ability as a writer.  This came from the perspective of an accomplished author, a literary major and a writing teacher.  King has run the gambit of an author’s life, and he’s a voracious reader.  He did, in fact, read Meyer’s book, so he didn’t speak from ignorance.

In what seems an unrelated item, an aspiring writer I know very often uses “pubbed” (meaning “published”) authors with whom she shares a critique group as authoritative sources on what is or isn’t “good” (read: acceptable, standard, normal, best practice) writing.  She cites their works from her shelves, their pieces of input on their critique forum, and becomes the “police” for whatever new article of wisdom has been pointed out to her in those critiques by those critics.

This is not an insult on that aspiring writer.  She’s amazing and talented, even if I don’t care for her genre or subject matter.  Nevertheless, I respectfully disagree with her assessment of all published authors as authorities on the writing craft.

Why?  Where do I get the gall to say such things?

From Stephen King, of course.

Stephenie Meyer is one of the best examples of a bad writer getting great things from writing I’ve seen in a long, long time.  She wrote a story with no respect for established ideas in the genre (not a bad thing) and she, according to King, can’t write “worth a darn.  She isn’t very good.”  (I can’t speak firsthand here, because I haven’t – and won’t – read Twilight). Now, not everyone loves Stephen King, but as a teacher and author for most of his life, he has, without doubt, earned the credibility to say whether someone’s a decent writer or not.  (I’ve heard views very different from his regarding Jo Rowling, but that’s another matter.)

If Stephenie Meyer wanted to offer me advice on how to sell a book to a literary agent, a publishing editor, and a movie company, I’d sit down immediately with a notepad and pencil and the most attentive look you’ve ever seen stamped on my visage.  I’d listen to every word and follow it to the letter.  Period.  The woman’s success cannot be argued, no matter who you are, no matter what you think you know.  She’s probably more successful at marketing than you, or you’d have four published books and a movie under your belt, too.  So, yeah – I’d pay a LOT of attention to her in those matters.

If Stephenie Meyer wants to tell me how to write my story – offers me input on grammar, structure, storytelling or plot – she’s very likely gonna talk to the hand, baby.  (Of course, I’d probably read her book first to see for myself, but it’s probable because … well, the King has spoken.)  Most likely, depending on what she has to say, I’m out of there.  Where she’s an expert, I’ll listen.  On the craft of writing?  Nope.  Not a word.  I’d be downright dismissive.  Sorry.

Not all published writers are good writers.  I see garbage gracing shelves all the time, to the chagrin of those who claim to be “gatekeepers” of what’s “good literature”.  I know of no less than three people who’ve visited this blog who are better writers than Stephenie Meyer, by which I mean Stephen King would not have said they couldn’t write worth a darn.  They’ve very talented writers, and I know he’d recognize that.  And while we need to be respectful of the ones who have blazed a trail before us and have walked the path we want to walk, and can point out the pitfalls and the wrong turns, there’s something to be said for being an expert in your own right on some things.  I have to admit at some point that some writers write in a way I envy and admire, others I wouldn’t emulate even if it did mean a million-dollar publishing contract.

That’s me.

But what about you?  Do you accept everything an author says about writing simply because their work sits on a shelf in Barnes & Noble or Borders?  Do you follow their advice just because they got there before you?  Or are you more prone to believe that the path they took didn’t encompass the words, the ideas and the method, but only the direction?

As for me, I accept guidance from authors I respect and admire, and that’s a scary idea to some degree.  Enough people like me means Stephenie Meyer will have many, many clones and imitators and the shelves of said same B&N and Borders will be lined with books like Twilight – poor in writing and substance.  I fear for the future writers of the world when the goal is to write in the style and manner of someone great writers think isn’t very good.

What about you?

-JDT-

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