Sturgeon’s Law and Fall Reading Suggestions

Many years (decades? lordy, I’m old) ago I saw an interview with Billy Joel where he was asked: Did he think he was a “great” songwriter?

Rather than engage in false humility, he said: “Well, I think I am a good songwriter—but in an age of mediocre songwriting, that makes me a great songwriter.” Isn’t that great? I mean, what’s not to like about that answer?

I remember that whenever I think about how to estimate/rate/review any work of art. One of my favorite authors, Andew Vachss, as with most things, has a very direct and laser-focused take on this topic. Concerning writing:

The lie is that writing is a meritocracy. The lie is that the cream rises to the top. The truth is that it’s a crap shoot. It’s a blind leech in a muddy swamp that swims along until it gets lucky and strikes a vein so it has some blood to suck on. It’s not a fist-fight. It’s not a weightlifting contest. It’s not a sprint. It’s not any ‘may the best man win’ because there is no objective standard for judging writing. At all.

As a slight counterpoint, another of my favorites, Stephen R. Donaldson, said:

Back in the days when I taught writing, I used to say (sometimes strenuously) that ‘Good is subjective: bad is objective.’ Just to pick one trivial example. Confusing pronoun reference is an ‘objective’ problem: a writer who can’t keep his/her pronouns straight actively prevents comprehension (which, I think we can all agree, is *not* a Good Thing). The same principle applies on every level of storytelling. But the farther we move from the objectively bad, the more we enter the domain of the subjective. I call Patricia McKillip ‘the most elegant and evocative stylist writing today.’ Someone else (this is purely hypothetical) might call her work ‘effete and juvenile.’ To such a reader, I could never *prove* that I was right. Nor could such a reader ever persuade me. No, I’m afraid that *time* is the only reliable judge.

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