Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Commandments

Just returned from a week in Maui with the wife, and perhaps it’s simply the shock of going in the span of 12 hours from 78 degrees and breezy to 20 with ice in everything, but it seems the right time to talk blog guidelines. That’s right; having ventured to perhaps the most laid back, relaxing place in the universe, I’m now thinking, “rules imposition!”

This site’s primary purpose is as a place to collect and showcase my fiction. I’m pretty good at this, and getting better, but my actual range as a writer, in total, has been more or less limited to, A) first person fiction, and, B) third person fiction. On the path behind me lies the detritus of some dabblings into poetry (okay), songwriting (less than okay), and journalism (abysmal), but they are far distant, and not very focused. With the ice cold shock of actually seeing my first submission, done more or less on a lark, published came a previously absent sense of seriousness, and the uncharacteristically humble realization I might actually have something to learn from those authors who came before me.

What the past year of self-directed study has revealed is that very nearly all those writers whom I respect have worked in a breadth of styles and forms that I have not. Vonnegut and Clemens spent time churning out copy, Hemingway’s first works were journalism, and even Harlan Ellison, a man tied to the short form fiction tight as a mummy’s underwear, has dabbled his toes in just about everything. Versatility, clearly, has something going for it.

Blogging seems about as far in the opposite direction from fiction as can be imagined. Most prominently (alarmingly?), there’s no remove between author and work. All writers inject some of themselves of course; that’s 90% of of what makes one writer worth reading and another suitable only for pulp. But in fiction one can hide themselves behind narrative, behind stylistic choices. Fill a character’s mouth with a seemingly endless torrent of flowery non-sequiturs adding up to precisely nothing, and you’ve created something memorable and intriguing. Do the same thing on your blog and you’re a pedant, a bloviating gasbag in love with the sound of their own voice.

Oops.

My point is that this is new ground for me, a challenge. Much as I might want to post a new short story every week and let the work do the talking, it’s not going to happen, not without mighty Odin adding another four hours to the day. A writer in America, it seems to me, has to learn how to blog, to fill in the gaps between the (hopefully) steady pace of fiction. Versatility is involiable.

So like any good American, I’m cheating.

As a writer, I have a set of self made rules that I refer to as Smith’s Commandments to keep myself motivated, on task, and consistent, what I view as the three basic challenges of any creative type with aspirations to professionalism. The Commandments themselves are the subject of a future installment, but they are important here insofar as they provide a convenient structure for forging ahead into this uncharted wilderness.

(Uncharted for me, that is; I’m all too aware there are plenty of veritable Sacajawea’s of the electronic frontier out there, and you folks are a constant source of equal parts intimidation and awe.)

So to rip myself off, and hopefully start directing this whole project on something resembling an upward curve towards being worth your time and attention, I present Smith’s E-Commandments.

1) Length =/= Quality
Otherwise known as “keep it snappy”. I know, kind of laughable right? But overwriting is the most common criticism of my fiction, so it stands to reason it’d carry over to the more immediately personal blog style. Believe it or not, this is an improvement from even a year ago, and hopefully that will continue.

2) Four letter words and exclamation points are not the mortar in the bricks of worthwhile prose.
I’m an expressive guy, which is a nice way of saying I can get heated. Hot or not, there’s nearly always better ways to tie the words together than the oh so easy F-bomb. Not that this is a profanity free zone, but every curse will be chosen with the same care that any other word would get.

3) Perfection will not be the enemy of frequency.
There is something to be said for polish and breadth, but they must play secondary to the simple act of writing itself. This is a concept of such importance that something similar (“The writing itself before everything”) is the very first of Smith’s Commandments. It plays third here only because I’ve gotten marginally better at it.

4) Politics isn’t the world.
I’ve never bought into the idea that politics should not be spoken of. Our politics should be our values in action, and to deny that portion of yourself is, to my mind, tacit admission of no values at all. That said, like any issue that goes to the core of who we are, politics can seem in the hot, emotional moment, to be all there is. It’s far too easy to fall into that rabbit hole and only look back miles later to realize you’ve spoken about nothing else. If it does not illuminate, illustrate, or at least provide something resembling an original take on an issue of the day, it won’t cloud my feed.

5) Criticism is sacred.
And a negative criticism is no less valuable than a positive one. I vow never to make someone feel they are unwelcome to truly lay into whatever piece of crap they feel I just posted, be it fiction, a comment, or a relink.

As I’ve said, a lot, this is a new game to me. I can’t guarantee I’ll always make the best choices in layout or content, but I’ll always be striving to improve. I hope along the way I can entertain you, and we can inform one another.

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