Dont Consider Yourself Too Smart

It's possible to sabotage your fiction by being too smart for your own good - by being a smart aleck. Even before you begin writing your next story, you should examine your attitudes toward yourself your readers, your own work and contemporary fiction. It could be that these attitudes are damaging your work without your realizing it. Ask yourself:

• Do you consider yourself more intelligent than most of the stories and novels you read?

• Do you believe contemporary fiction is sort of beneath you in terms of intellectual attainment?

• Do you figure your readers-when you get them-will be dumb compared to you?

• Do you revel in Proust, adore T. S. Eliot, think there has never been a really great American novelist, and sneer at everything in the popular magazines and the best-sellers lists?

If so, I congratulate you on your self-satisfaction, but warn you that such smug condescension will be the death of you as a writer; at best you'll one day publish obscure little short stories in giveaway magazines for other small-college English teachers like yourself; at worst, on your death bed, you'll whisper to your sister the location of your hidden treasure trove of unpublished fiction, and breathe your last in the vain hope that future generations will revere you like they now do Emily Dickinson.

Wouldn't it be a lot better not to consider yourself so smart? To try to figure out what contemporary readers like - then to work to give them the best stories of that type they ever read?

Condescension is a terrible thing. Readers sense it and are turned off by it. The good writer writes humbly, never in a condescending manner, as if to lesser mortals. As the sign said on many a newsroom wall in the olden days, "Don't write down to your readers; the ones dumber than you can't read"

. And in terms of fiction, that statement is absolutely true, because fiction does not come from the head; it comes from the heart. The job of the fiction writer is to plumb the depths of human emotions, and then to portray them... re-create them... stir them. Bigness of heart-compassion - is far more important than bigness of IQ.

If you consider the public a great unwashed that's somehow beneath you, then, I beg you to work on changing your attitudes. You can't write down to your readers. They will catch your insincerity in an instant and hate you for it.

To put all this another way, consider this:

If you're extremely smart, you're lucky. But if you are that intelligent, one of your hardest jobs may be to keep a snobbish attitude out of your work. And you don't have to be that smart to write wonderful fiction... if you're sensitive and caring enough.

You might even consider putting the following reminders on the bulletin board in your writing room:

•Never write down to your readers.

•Don't assume your reader is dumber than you.

•Never-ever-sneer at published work.

•Think you're too smart to sell? baloney!

•Come down to earth! that's where the readers are.

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