I’ll start with this quote:
“There are three rules of writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are.”
— W. Somerset Maugham
I saw this the other day and couldn’t shake the feeling that it might be the piece of writing advice under which all other writing instruction is filed.
I’m actually pro-advice. I’m a teacher. I don’t subscribe to the idea that creativity can’t be taught. That ephemeral/spiritual design of creativity overlooks the fact that the genius teaches herself something, at the very least. Genius usually has a teacher, or an ally.
But the Maugham quote gets to something else: we all want there to be some sort of ordering principle with writing. And there isn’t any.
I’ve been reflecting on this lately because I’m outlining. I’m hatching a plan. This is a period where I seem to have the most latitude with what I write. And in this phase, I always seem particularly sensitive to clickbait, Guardian articles and scholarly theory about how I should comport myself as ‘the author’.
It’s all the same advice: be a good person.
It’s all well-meaning. But it’s all garbage too. Unfortunately no one can agree on what a good person is either.
All the writing advice in the world (good and bad), will never break your fall.
I went with this intro on advice because I thought it would be funny to couple it with this haughty screed I knocked out the other day, on my lunch hour.
HOW TO FIX MUSIC CRITICISM
1. Burn the negative of 'Almost Famous':
I’m not sure how a generation of music critics have subsumed the story of Almost Famous into a reason to become a music critic, but they have. The film is cited shockingly often and without shame.
Of course, I’m tempted to demand a revision of the film, to demand that critics re-see it as the appalling miasma of nostalgia and self-obfuscation it can be, but humans can’t be trusted with this film. We have the evidence now.
We have to burn it.
2. Develop some semblance of self-respect:
In a world where Beyoncé can reach her audience via social media, she moves to bend the traditional media to those same dictates.
This perversity in media strategy tracks elsewhere, everywhere now.
Shitty memoirs instead of critical biographies.
The band as ‘producers’ on their own bio-pic.
Brands instead of personality.
Content instead of any attempt at journalism.
“…did not respond immediately.”
It’s not a trick. Music criticism, as Greil Marcus reminds us, is fiction. The writer makes the connections and creates the meaning, as she sells us the story of an artist’s work.
The problem with what we have now is that few of these musicians are good writers. To my mind, Beyoncé has no eye for character development at all.
We used to think everyone would be their own critic but while we were rushing out our free opinions online — to our friends — our own superstars stepped into the breach and now they’re free to become perfect seamless self-creations or outright fabrications and both of these things are without dissonance and noise.
Which is a fancy way of say, they’re fucking boring.
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