I am a little over a week into a two year pursuit of a graduate degree in creative writing. I have been binging and purging words like a motherfucker. (yes, I know that simile makes no sense). I assume it will make me a better writer. It’s a good program with amazing faculty. In the end I’ll have a book I’ll hopefully be proud of and, equally hopefully, someone will want to publish. In the interim, it is already forcing me to put fingers on keyboard and churn. As is my nature, I go back to the words on the page and obsess, but I keep churning. The pressure of a deadline and a faculty review looms. Perhaps equally motivating to my inherent capitalism, I’m paying a boatload of money and won’t waste it because I didn’t produce enough. Amid the churning, binging and purging of words, perhaps I’ll find an ember.
I recently read a blog reviewing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I admit I have not read the book. I did pick it up in a bookstore, glance through it and say, “nah”. The blog pretty much ripped it a new asshole. It got me thinking about the concept of “good” and how it is defined. That book has sold a bzillion copies. All those readers did not read it because it was bad; at least by their definition. I am in an MFA program. I obviously want my writing to be “good”. Yet, mechanics, craft and elitist views aside, that book, or the Twilight series or the DaVinci Code do something spectacularly well that is outside the accepted realm of criticism. It can’t be easy or everyone would replicate whatever that “it” is.
I found analogy in a hotel. I have a long, successful and acclaimed career in the hotel industry. That is to say, I know a lot about them, how they work, and the outcomes they produce. I recently spent a few days in residency for my grad program at an old hotel in the mountains of New Hampshire. I use “old”. The hotel used “historic”. It is a very old building full of stories, I’ll grant, but old describes the cheap, worn carpet in the corridors, the even cheaper casegoods in the rooms that one will find in half the Holiday Inns in America, and the outdated plumbing system. Inoperable plumbing is not the price of history; nor is it charming. It is a poor maintenance effort.
While I found fault with everything from the heavy handed sauces applied to over cooked proteins to the banquet chairs that were stained with god knows what to the ridiculous turn down service meant to, smoke and mirrors style, hide the fact that they didn’t actually clean my room, most of my colleagues were delighted with the place. I would emphasize I was not there to find fault with that hotel. I get paid to do that, and I try to apply a willing suspension of disbelief to my leisure hotel experiences.
So, as a somewhat hotel expert, I was disappointed by a property that my well educated and traveled writing peers found wonderful. What components made them conclude it was “good”? Why does the casual reader flock to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo when the trained reader mocks it? What is that part of “good” in any realm that the experts disregard?
I don’t know the answers. I’m just puking out words. Time to go puke some more words into my manuscript.