Today is your day, not theirs.

This may sound like a weird comparison, but the whole "book industry people can't decide what they want!" complaint sort of reminds me of my language teachers for my tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade years (ages 15, 16, and 17, for you across continents) in school. I had the same teacher for tenth and twelfth grades (Mrs. A), and a different teacher in between (Mrs. B).

Mrs. A never wanted a real declarative sentence in research papers. She always wanted us to preface any statement with an "I feel the author meant . . ." or some such, followed by a " . . . because he/she . . ." to introduce proof for the assertion. You got a lower grade if you just came out and said, "Um, by that time, Poe had completely lost his mind, which just goes to show a broken heart CAN kill you, indirectly or not." (Okay, that example's a bit sloppy, but you get the gist.) I think maybe she felt we weren't expert enough to make an official judgment on anyone in the literary community, because, well, Mrs. A? Wonderful, encouraging, passionate, but loonier than a beta fish cage fight.

Meanwhile, Mrs. B, that teacher in the middle, she couldn't STAND the wishy-washiness of "I think" or "I feel", or even "It's possible". In her opinion, if you had evidence to back up something, it was worth throwing it out there with your guts attached (this from a classy, articulate, soft-spoken, true Old Southern lady).

So, I had just gotten used to cranking out "just what she expects" A-grade papers for Mrs. A. when I moved on to class with Mrs. B, and had to 180 my technique . . . and then, having pinned THAT, the next year, I had Mrs. A. again.

To complicate matters further, I had Mrs. B. twice a day during my Junior year. Once for formal English/literature, and then in the next class period, for creative writing, so during 2nd class period, she'd preach the necessity of correct grammar, following the rules of our language, the unbending laws of field writing, and so on. In third period, all that went out the window as she encouraged us to be as free as we could, think outside the box, get creative.

So, to sum up:

10th Grade: Think, don't state.
11th Grade: State, don't wobble/obey the rules!/forget the rules!
12th Grade: Didn't I tell you to just think things? Stop those statements!/Creative Writing 2, Be free my little birdies! Fly far, far into the pathos of art!

Book industry people are always saying we should write what WE feel like, or write what WE know, not to try to write specifically to what's selling right then, because too many variables play into whether or not what's hot cools down by the time you get to the table, including agent tastes, book trends, the economy, and blah, blah, blah. This is incredibly good advice.

Me, I just think we need to send all aspiring writers through my last three years of language arts before they're allowed to submit anything.

Trust me, that'll teach 'em.


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