I remembered it when I came across this dictum in a list of proverbs for entrepreneurs.
If you keep your secrets from the market, the market will keep its secrets from you -- entrepreneurs too often worry about keeping their brilliant secrets locked away; we should all worry much more about springing a surprise on a disinterested market (anyone remember the Segway?). To quote Howard Aiken: "Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats."I also like this line, in the next proverb: "[W]hen the New York Times Magazine puts out its annual "Year in Ideas" issue, is your idea in it? Then don't do it. You're already too late." Are you writing the same stuff that everyone else is writing? Don't do it. Yes, editors are still buying it -- from the writers who invented it, five or ten years ago. They already have a fanbase, and can continue to milk that fanbase, perhaps for many more book-years. You can't. You have to come up with your own stuff.
But what if people don't liiiiiike my stuff?!
Yeah, there's that risk. You can spill your guts on the page, and sometimes the readers' reaction is, "Ewww, guts." But there's really no other way.
In a sense, writing is a good bit like being an entrepreneurial engineer, isn't it? We're building these machines of spinning gears and flashing lights, hoping the reader will be thrilled, happy that he bought the gadget, and on the lookout for the next spinning, flashing machine from the same shop. And the reader didn't even know he wanted the thing you made, until he read the story. Ten years ago, who knew that anyone wanted blogs? Fifty years ago, lasers were dismissed as 'a solution in search of a problem'. Now I've got half a dozen lasers in my house, in everything from the DVD player to the garage door. In 1997, who knew we wanted Stalky & Co. with magic wands and ghosts? Who knew we wanted cyberpunk before Gibson, or retellings of the Edda before Tolkien?
Everyone, entrepreneur or writer, has to figure out what might resonate with the buyer or the reader, before they know themselves. What do you have, what do you know, that would fascinate others? It may be something completely new. It may not be new, it may be something that everyone knows (or loves, or fears, or desires) deep down, but has never heard articulated. Every famous jazz player of the 1930s and 1940s had his own unique riffs, that he used again and again, through many variations. Every successful rock and roll band has invented its own signature chords. A writer must do this, too. A writer must bring something new and intriguing to the table, something the reader can't take their eyes off, something they have never seen the likes of before, something they can't get anywhere else.
Some recent quotes 'n' stuff about fiction writing:
Suzy Charnas, suzych, on the wrong way vs. the right way to reveal character, and why the writer must not have contempt for any character, even the evil ones:
For example, the thought "I hate X because he makes me feel stupid" is way too self-aware for the mentality at issue, which is far more likely to be expressed, IMO, in these terms: "X thinks he's so smart! All he knows is a lot of high and mighty bullshit he read in a bunch of crumbly old books, but he doesn't know anything about the real world that real people like me have to live in, because he's so ancient and stuck up and high on himself!" We get the author's assessment of the character's view of other-character X, not the baby celeb character's own view of him at all.From Margorie Liu's, webpetals, LJ:
In other words, the problem is that the author not only doesn't like her witless celeb characters -- she despises them; and she lets it show, mainly by not bothering to actually get in there and *be* them, which is an author's job. An old friend and colleague of mine recently remarked that good writer knows that she must *love* all her characters, even the dimmest and dullest and meanest of them, to make them work. I wouldn't put it that way, myself; I don't think love is the point. But you do have to lay down your superiority, moral and otherwise, and step into their minds with a willingness to actually see the world through their eyes, self-justification and all.
Most people, after one success, are so cringingly afraid of doing less well that they rub all the edge off their subsequent work. ~ Beatrix PotterFrankly, I'd love to have this problem.
Cheryl Klein, a YA editor, collects a few good quotes on the subject of sentence-level prose.