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I’ve recently discovered the writer-snob and the literary-snob in me.  I don’t find this an attractive trait at all.  Yet I’m not one of those kind of writers when I’m talking to my fellow USF writers and former professors.  I feel quite humbled among them.  They’re so creative, intelligent, well-read and with a genuine love for language and writing. Good writing excites them like it excites me.  We love talking about it almost as much as we love reading it.  I am reading about 3 books right now – “The Last Life” by Claire Messud, Alice Munro’s “Too Much Happiness” and  “Cowboys Are My Weakness” by Pam Houston – and I honestly don’t think I could have appreciated them, especially at how well they are crafted, had I not gone through my MFA program. I can actually see the strategies being used, and I am in awe of how well these stories are told.

At the recent suggestion of a friend, I began to explore online article directories to see if they could be a way to gain  writing experience and online exposure. These article directories seem to be the new “bulletin boards” of the internet, but with a pseudo-online magazine or e-zine format.  Some are pretty slick looking, but most have no filtering editor to go through a content qualification process. On some sites, readers can rate your article and post comments, to which you can respond.  Some have nice bells and whistles, like letting you include pictures and videos in your articles.  I’m still old school about non-fiction articles, so I ended up  submitting to a directory that is fairly stripped down and easy to learn.  No pictures and links are nominally allowed.  Nor is there reader access for commentary.  Unlike most directories I looked at, this site has the appearance of a submission/qualification process, although I believe acceptance criteria weighs more on the technical and formatting aspect of the submission and less so on quality of its content.

I continued to search through these article directories to read articles on writing fiction.  I thought by deconstructing some of them, I might learn article structure, appropriate POV, narrative tone, diction, etc.  Instead, I found myself rolling my eyes and groaning.  Every now and then I’d come across a diamond in the rough or an original, expertly written article.  But most were written by people, who rehashed, quite poorly, information that most new writers can find on other more “writerly” websites and how-to-write books.  Ironically, many of these articles on craft were written by people who had never published their fictional work, other than self-publishing their stories on these very same article directories, which was equally dismaying.  I just could never do that with my stories.  But then, my stories were the result nearly three years of intensive writing, of workshops with often painful feedback, and of constant reworking, revising and reinventing.

Since I have some working knowledge of writing fiction, I set out to write on the craft of writing.  Just the basics, but with relevant and useful tools, which none of these article writers had so far succeeded in doing.  Most wrote about how to get inspiration or what do when you have writer’s block, with nebulous advice  rather than actual, real-world tools.  Even some of the “practical tips” articles were nothing but intangible, abstract filler that wouldn’t do a beginning writer any good, so I decided to respond with an intelligent, well-articulated basic how-to. It started out long, about 1500 words.  This particular directory site allows up to 5000, but who the heck wants to read an online article that long?

I kept reading, forcing myself really, to get some ideas on how to approach my subject matter.  I realized the articles that bothered me the most were all written in the first person.  I found the narrator’s voice overly forceful, the writer’s presence too intrusive, like a bullhorn in a coffee shop, full of swagger and self-importance.  These writers inevitably would tout their writing accomplishments or proudly insert large sections of their stories as examples of how certain craft points are applied.  Their failure to deliver quality writing emboldened me to be that much better in my article.

Then I read my article in its entirety.  I mean really read it.  Although it didn’t evoke the “I”, my article had a bit of the same tone as those other articles  – that ego’s voice of “Look at me.  I’m a writer who knows more.  Let me impart my wisdom.”   I talked in literary terms; the voice was elevated; my sentences were left branching and long.  I mentioned writers like Munro, Diaz and Paley, like badges of honor. In truth, I was no better than the writers I criticized. I let the writer get in the way of writing.

So I revised.  And revised.  And revised again.  Four days later, I had stripped off all literary references, split the narrative into two articles, one addressing structure and the other addressing basic craft strategies.  I shed the authorial ego and wrote to an audience of fellow writers, albeit beginning writers, but brethren in writing nonetheless. I primarily wrote in the second person, moving in and out of first person plural, although I was judicious in evoking the “you” or the “we”, because their use risked elevating the writer and devaluing the reader.  I paid close attention to the language.  I moved in and out of the formal and the colloquial. By the time I finished, the articles were factual, practical, personable and supportive.  The voice was no longer condescending.  The language was articulate with a hint of academia but mostly, it was accessible and clear.

Despite my biases and misgivings about “self-publishing” on one of these article directories, I do think they provide a valuable arena for new writers and for those writers who are looking for ways to build an online portfolio.   I know this  isn’t “real” publishing in the traditional sense. Still, I consider what I’ve done as writing and good practice for breaking into the non-fiction world, and altogether, a refreshingly humbling writing experience.

(My articles are being featured on EzineArticles.com.  Links to them are on my Narrative Distances page.)

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