As is, I think, pretty widely known now, I write for a couple of baseball sites. Recently, I had an article up on one of them that some people took issue with. I got into a bit of a pissing contest in the comments when I probably should have let it lie. But the discussion raised an interesting issue. The discussion, went basically like this:

Commenter: I don’t know what the point of this is.

Me: I think it’s pretty clear. You should read the article.

Other Commenter: If someone misunderstands, it is always the writer’s fault. You should try to improve.

Fortunately, I more or less stopped responding after that last sentiment was expressed as I was just about to lose my cool entirely. Still, that last idea is, I think, completely absurd. Let me tell you why.

The assumption that the writer is always responsible for any misunderstanding (and this is a sentiment I have heard expressed many times) is flawed for a number of reasons.

1. It presumes that all (adults/near adults) have more or less the same level of literacy. This is simply not true. I saw recently that only 12 percent of the population actually ends up fully literate. That is, only 12 percent of America is capable of fully understanding the depth and nuance of sophisticated literature. If you doubt this, go to Amazon and look at the one star reviews of any classic. Here, let’s try. How about Anna Karenina?

Hmmm…what to say indeed. Well, this could be an OK story if, you know, it was a short story. Basically not much happens and a lot of the story describes the land and how Levin is so wonderful and devoted to his wife. Some whould say that this is superb literary thechnique, I say that if you are publishing a novel, let it have a story line. Anna’s hardly even in the story anyway. Most would argue that Levin (the goodie two shoes) is the protagonist because he represents Tolstoy’s view of Russia.

Now, I suppose it is possible for a well read and educated person to dislike this novel. There are, I am sure, some negative critical takes. This person, however, clearly doesn’t understand the point of the book at all. And I don’t think we can put that on Tolstoy.

I am not, of course, saying that baseball articles should be written only for the 12 percent of people who can read and fully understand a complex novel like Anna Karenina. Nor am I comparing a baseball article to Anna Karenina. Rather, I am pointing out that the reader has an obligation to fully engage with the text, and that often, failure to understand is a failure of the consumer of the text rather than the producer. Reading is not a passive activity and if someone is trying to make it into one, they misunderstand the process.

Often books and articles are poorly written. But unless you, as a reader, are willing to fully engage with the text, you are not qualified to make that judgment. Writers have an obligation to present the text in the best way they can with a level of complexity that is appropriate to the intended audience. They do not have an obligation to over-simplify so that the least engaged reader can fully understand. That would make for a lot of boring writing.

Here We Go Again

March 23, 2013

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know I’ve been doing this certification thing for a while and that it’s finally winding down. The certification requires a lot of writing. A lot. And then a lot rewriting. It means I haven’t been doing much fiction writing for this last year and so ideas have been building up in my head.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve started two novels and I’m still working on this short story collection.

Whoops.

I didn’t really mean to suddenly become so ambitious, but I’ve never really been able to control these things. It is interesting to see how each new thing I write is the sum of what has come before it. For a long time, I wrote only in third person, but I’ve been really trying hard to improve my first person writing with short stories and suddenly, both of the new things are proving to be a marriage of first and third person with a variety of different voices and perspectives.

I’d also forgotten how nice it feels to start writing something long. I’ve been heavily focused on short stories for several years and while I like writing them, there isn’t really a great deal of opportunity to engage in complex subplots and intricate character development. It’s nice to have the space to do those things. It means I can spend a couple of pages describing the mood of a county fair.

What, you may ask, are these things about? I’m not sure, exactly. One is a baseball novel, and I think it will be fairly short (it feels like about 200 pages, but I could be wrong). Given my presence in the online baseball community, I’m hoping to have a reasonably decent time finding an agent or publisher for it. Failing that, I may well self-publish this one.

The other one is more complex and will involve longer stretches of time and lots of jumping around in time and place. I have ideas, but I’m mostly letting this one do what it wants to do.

I am, interestingly for me, taking notes on both of these. I’ve never done that before. I always prefer to just sit down, start writing, and see where it goes. But kids/work/remaining certification stuff/blogging obligations mean I don’t always get a chance to sit down and write seriously when I want to. And, as much as I am a believer that inspiration is not a necessary part of good writing, I do require a reasonable isolation to write fiction. I don’t need that for blogging, which is why you’re getting this post now.

While I don’t want to be overly ambitious, I’d like to see about finishing a draft the baseball book by the end of the summer. It probably won’t happen, but 60,000 words really isn’t that much (I’d probably only need 400 or so a day if I started right now), and I am usually a pretty quick writer.

This all means that you’ll probably be seeing a lot more writing stuff on here for a while. Lately, the blog has been very family and teaching focused. Those post will still be here, but I do like writing about writing, so prepare yourselves.

Accidents

March 11, 2013

I certainly have not been a prolific blogger lately. That isn’t intentional, but it is what it is. So, by way of actually posting something, I offer the assorted hodgepodge of things:

1. While I am very excited for the coming summer, I am very proud of the teaching job I’ve done this year. Obviously, I won’t know how my AP kids do on the test until much later, but the number of kids I have who intend to take the test represent a big leap forward for my school, and I think they will all, at least, feel prepared for college, which is what my real goal has always been.

2. Along those lines, I’m kind of amazed at the relationships I’ve formed with some of my students this year. I suppose this is what happens when the right teacher ends up with the right students.

3. It is possible that I will have what is for me a very, very big change to report on sometime in the next few months. I cannot say anything at all publicly right now, but it’s pretty exciting for me.

4. Speaking of exciting (or perhaps terrifying). I think I accidentally started a new novel this weekend. I seem to be putting the cart before the horse here as I have two novels on my hard drive that haven’t been published and a collection of short stories/vaguely novelish think that needs to be finished. But here we go. I let Cate read the first few pages and she wondered aloud why she even bothers trying to write. I’m pretty sure this was a compliment, so I’ll keep at it. I think I know what I’m doing this summer.

5. We have several friends coming by in the next few weeks, and I’m pretty excited. Cate’s best friend will be coming in this weekend and then a very good friend of mine (who I haven’t seen for several years) will be in during my spring break. Fun times.

I’m sure I’ll have some kind of deep/thoughtful post before too long, but I wanted to get something up in the meantime. I’m trying to become regular about this stuff again. We’ll see how that goes.