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Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Super Privileged Rules For Looking Down On Every Other Novelist

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Jonathan Franzen had some thoughts, I guess. Insufferable, pretentious thoughts that he felt like everyone else should hear. They were, unsurprisingly, on the topic of writing advice.

Now, when men who describe themselves as novelists have something to say, they have to say it in the most arrogant, pseudo-philosophical way they can possibly hope to achieve. Franzen, the poster boy for the mediocre white male novelist, employs that aesthetic heartily in his “10 Rules For Novelists”. And far be it from me to criticize a cis white male pissing commandments from his ivory tower and onto the worthless peasants below, but every damn item on his list is asinine.

1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

…no, the reader is a reader. It’s right there in the word. I agree that readers aren’t adversaries, despite the attitudes of many thin-skinned authors. But friendship is a two-way obligation that your readers are not committing to when they buy your books. They’re not looking to experience you, they’re wanting to experience your work. I would argue that they are spectators. There’s nothing wrong with being a spectator; most of the entertainment we consume, we consume passively, from baseball games to yes, even books. It’s still an exciting symbiotic relationship, but it’s one that doesn’t make the reader beholden to the author. Which is exactly as it should be.

2. Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

My first thought when I read this item was, “Bold of you to assume that writers are making money.” But the real issue with this statement is that a successful author with a rumored net worth in excess of ten million dollars has the luxury of looking down on money, a fact which Franzen has notoriously refused to acknowledge in the past. In 2015, Franzen declared that despite his wealth, “I spend my time connected to the poverty that’s fundamental to mankind, because I’m a fiction writer.” I don’t believe for a hot second that Franzen is actually connected to poverty in any way other than romanticizing the idea of it, but even if he did choose to spend his days thoughtfully listening to and sympathizing with residents of a tent city, he would still go home to warmth, shelter, and food stability. He can flirt with the notion of rejecting money because he has it.

I can practically hear Pulp’s “Common People” playing the background as Franzen obliviously penned this entry.

Plus, if every piece of fiction was “an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown,” then all of literature would be deeply boring. There would be no Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, no A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for god’s sake, there would be no fucking Star Wars. In one sentence, Franzen somehow manages to sneer at writers who make money (as he does, in massive amounts) and implies that all books should be navel-gazing glimpses into the mind of the author.

And let’s not forget that the giant advances being handed to all those male authors so they can have their artistic adventures into the unknown are being paid by the sales of genre fiction authors, many of them women. If Franzen would rather not have the money, we’d gladly take it, rather than see it squandered on a demographic who spend eighty percent of their writing time trying to come up with the perfect adjective to describe just how sorrowful a female character’s breasts look at a cocktail party.

3. Never use the word then as a conjunction—we have and for this purpose. Substituting then is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many ands on the page.

I don’t know, Jon. Which sounds like a more pleasant afternoon: “We’ll eat pork chops and do the autopsy,” or “We’ll eat pork chops then do the autopsy?” Maybe it’s because I’m not a serious artist, but I can’t think of a way to employ “then” as a conjunction in the first place. It’s an adverb; if you put it in a sentence, it’s going to function as an adverb whether that’s your intention or not. Also, since when are “too many ands” a problem? “And” is a nearly invisible word unless it’s part of a run-on sentence.

4. Write in third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.

The fact that Franzen believes this is one of his writing rules belies just how little he thinks of every other writer on the planet. “Surely this a point I need to make to other novelists,” he thinks, tapping his pen against his lips. “There may be people out there writing in first-person who are doing so without even thinking that third-person might be an option. I must help them!”

Yes, Jonathan, dear. We already know that first-person narratives are only workable if the voice is distinct. The same can be said of third-person, however.

5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

I’m not sure what point he’s trying to make here. Is he suggesting that information should not be free and universally acceptable, lest it devalues the work of a novelist who is granted access to it? Or is his assertion that research is no longer valued, so fuck it? “People have way too much access to knowledge” is an odd stance for an author to take, especially if that author just recoiled at the idea of someone writing something that isn’t an adventure into the unknown. What would the point of such a journey be, if the author and reader aren’t expected to learn something from it? And what does it say about Franzen’s view of society–perhaps his view of the impoverished people with whom he feels so connected–if he endorses the gatekeeping of knowledge?

On the other hand, maybe he really is saying that it’s pointless to do research now that it’s been devalued. Maybe he’s super into badly researched, inaccurate books.

6. The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than The Metamorphosis.

As with number four, are we talking about Franzen’s personal rules or the rules of fiction entirely? Of course, fiction requires invention. It’s what fiction is. Although, I would argue that with the sheer volume of modern literary novels about privileged men having extramarital affairs with bewitching younger women is a strong counterpoint to the claim that all autobiographical fiction must contain elements of “pure invention.” Those narratives seem to sell well without anyone turning into a giant bug.

7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.

I’m 99.9% sure I’ve seen this as an inspirational quote on a poster in a dentist’s waiting room. If not, then it should absolutely be an inspirational quote on a poster in a dentist’s waiting room. But this feels like a subtle manipulation, tantalizing aspiring authors with the prospect that they will gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their craft by simply declining to pursue tangible goals. Coupled with Franzen’s other points disparaging authors who write for money and seemingly encouraging a state of mass of ignorance, I have to wonder about his motive for suggesting that inaction is preferable to forward momentum.

8. It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

Sir, are you aware that you’ve posted this list to the Internet?

This one ties in so neatly to numbers five and two. Authors use the internet to publish, to network, and to publicize. For many working writers–you know, those dirty ones who put money ahead of the Dark Night of The Soul we’re supposed to be experiencing with every word we put on the page–the internet is a tool used in our work. Of course, therein lies the problem: Franzen has already stated that he apparently doesn’t want just anybody to have access to information with which to research their novels, lest it devalues…researching novels. It only makes sense, then, that he would oppose a medium that puts knowledge at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection.

The internet also allows writers the opportunity to contact agents and submit manuscripts to publishers without paying for postage. New York Times bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon once described having to borrow three dollars from a neighbor so she could send a partial to an editor who’d requested it. She pilfered a stamp from her husband’s wallet: “For one twenty nine cent stamp, my entire life was forever changed.” For someone with Franzen’s money, three dollars is less than nothing. Twenty-nine cents is not existent. But for a writer actually living in, instead of comfortably adjacent to a nebulous concept of, poverty, that $3.29 was a near impossible hurdle. Access to the internet changes that. For many, it has blown open wide the numerous gates and checkpoints barring access to publication–obstacles that Franzen will never face again. His belief that authors who use the internet to work are are lesser or doing it wrong is simply the panicked raving of a man facing what he perceives as a threat to his once-guaranteed superiority. I can imagine him sitting up in the night, bathed in an icy sweat, gulping for air and gasping, “My god! Just anyone can be a writer!”

Judging from his worry that access to knowledge might devalue his work, it’s fairly clear that Franzen is of the view that only certain people should be allowed into the hallowed halls of authordom. And after all, if poor people manage to succeed, who will he study for his frightening and unknown adventures?

9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

So far, this list has read as though it were written by a suddenly grammar-conscious Yoda hell-bent on eliminating the competition.

10. You have to love before you can be relentless.

When all else fails, start transcribing fortune cookies.

Can we please stop lauding white male authors with loads of privilege and archaic notions as the bar for intelligence, depth, and talent in fiction? Could we consider no longer hanging on their every self-indulgent word? Or, to put it more plainly, can we stop vigorously fellating any authors whose Wikipedia entries contain the word “Americana?” Franzen’s demographic is one that has never been denied a platform. It won’t hurt to hear from constructive voices every once in a while. Voices eager to share genuine advice, not smug, thinly veiled criticism of other authors. We can learn more from people who acknowledge their privilege than we can from those who cling to it like a liferaft, adrift in a sea of their own insecurity.

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81 Comments

  1. Black Knight
    Black Knight

    Is it too late to switch to a Franzen book for Jealous Haters Book Club 2019?

    I can’t get over #8. I didn’t read it as you did, as criticizing authors who are using the Internet to promote and sell their work. I read it as a slam at anyone who’s not financially able to write full-time and as such, gasp, is working at another job in order to earn a living. And he does this while simultaneously sneering at people who write for money.

    November 15, 2018
    |Reply
    • Dove
      Dove

      I read #8 as Franzen suggesting that the internet is a huge distraction, which it can definitely be, but all of our interpretations sound accurate which illustrates that he’s not good at writing clear, succinct sentences and shouldn’t be making lists without the help of an editor.

      This goes back to his comment regarding then… Apparently, he must have done this but how common is that? It is a problematic solution to the creation of long, boring sentences that simply describe a bunch of crap together… the run-on sentence problem. Which is also easily solved by breaking up the sentence into multiple sentences… As long as they get revised properly, this is the best solution. So, the question remains, who else is using the word Then, instead of And, to patch up this kind of issue? It’s akin to replacing said with yelled. His other point about interesting verbs also presumably links back to that same idea, even though he doesn’t mention dialog at all. Overall, this list is so fucking tight yet vague that one has to use context to guess at his precise meaning.

      TL;DR Franzen was writing an essay but he realized, or someone else told him, that more people would read a list. Then he chopped out his best sentences and shoved them into a numbered format. Mark Twain explains all of these thoughts so much better.

      Wait, I had a minor revelation. I don’t think Franzen meant using then in place of and within the same sentence… He meant that after you break-up a run-on sentence, if you, for example, switch the And at the beginning to Then, you’re a hack! Which is… weird? There are many instances where that’s still appropriate because as Jenny pointed out, it’s suggesting a time shift because then is explicitly taking place after whereas and could be concurrent. He’s picking apart something that really needs examples and an explanation for why it would be bad or lazy and it’s just so fucking annoying because English grammar is very complex.

      Meh. Again, essay versus list.

      November 16, 2018
      |Reply
      • Miimers
        Miimers

        #8 is probably that and combined with #5 a whole bunch of “Oh you plebs with your ‘internet research’! How quaint. REAL writers get all their information from REAL books which you definitely can’t read online in any way and also the information in physical books is always true facts with no bias or outdated data. Durhurhurhur”

        November 16, 2018
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        • Dove
          Dove

          Indeed. XD

          November 16, 2018
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      • Black Knight
        Black Knight

        Dove, I can certainly see your interpretation as well. And Jenny’s. So that’s at least three different interpretations of Franzen’s #8. I can’t say which one is right, so I will merely observe that a “rule” that is this ambiguous is not useful. He’s not a very good writer, is he? Heh.

        November 16, 2018
        |Reply
    • Vivacia K. Ahwen
      Vivacia K. Ahwen

      Hi, BK! There’s a good take-down of *Purity* on the podcast “The Worst Bestsellers,” which you might enjoy.

      November 16, 2018
      |Reply
      • Dove
        Dove

        Oooh, I’ll have to listen to that as well. XD

        November 16, 2018
        |Reply
        • Vivacia K. Ahwen
          Vivacia K. Ahwen

          You won’t be disappointed….also may find yourself addicted to a highly entertaining podcast.

          November 17, 2018
          |Reply
  2. Alyssa
    Alyssa

    His sentences were so convoluted and self indulgent, I barely understood what his points were, but my takeaway is his advice pretty much amounts to “insulate yourself from the realities of life as much as possible. If anything in your process is practical then (or should I say ‘and’?) it’s bad”.

    Or put more simply, “only people already living in the ivory tower should write”

    November 15, 2018
    |Reply
    • New Fan
      New Fan

      Pracical is the things your staff tells you when you give them Xmas checks and a ham. “Oh.. Timmy can get braces now, and my little Blanca can breathe another day as we can get her asthma medicine. And we shall eat so finely this holiday-tide”

      November 15, 2018
      |Reply
  3. The plebs??? Allowed to write??? Good God, whatever next? They’ll be giving women the vote next thing you know!!

    Free resources to do research is just another barrier removed, of course. Franzen liked being the one with the shelf full of Special Rare Books so that only he had access to the information.

    But do not they knoweth literature is only Valid if ’tis written using a Mont Blanc fountain pen on 200gsm handmade paper costing a minimum of $10 per page? HEATHENS.

    November 15, 2018
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  4. Tez Miller
    Tez Miller

    *checks chest* How can you tell if breasts look “sorrowful”? 😉

    “Pork Chops & Autopsy” will be my band name 😉

    November 15, 2018
    |Reply
    • I can’t think of any way to describe boob sadness without sounding like a creepy dude in the corner deciding they looked so alone and unsupported or something…

      November 24, 2018
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  5. Bunny
    Bunny

    Bad advice 101. But I guess this whole article is an exercise in that?

    8 bothers me so much. Oh, noes! The average writer has access to a source of inspiration and information, and doesn’t have to pay for access to innumerable resources, agencies, publishers, etc? OH WAIT – information is bad bad bad. All that info will break their fragile little author minds! We all know when an author’s mind has been broken – they start wanting to make rent, have electricity, gas, and water, and pay for these things through writing books, gasp! Then they’ll be a threat to your book empire and we can’t have that. And do note the usage of “he” . . . because it’s unthinkable that authors can be anything other than male.

    Plus the sheer disregard for the usefulness of “then” . . . at least /my/ characters won’t do their autopsies at the same time as they eat their pork chops, unlike yours, Mister Franzen!

    November 15, 2018
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  6. Maddy Churchhouse
    Maddy Churchhouse

    Great post and I love the way you ended it with that lifeboat metaphor. You’re so right, reading between the lines — this is all thinly veiled, self indulgent insecurity. He’s not really giving honest advice, he’s got an axe to grind that his position is being punctured by Ye Plebs with their WiFi and independent publishing, so he’s condescending instead. I couldn’t fricking believe that phrasing about the internet and research. Yes, turn off the WiFi to crack on with it, that’s good advice…but being skeptical of the quality of work of anyone who has WiFi in their office??? Wtf??? This is A) incorrect since many great authours use the internet in between working and thus clearly prejudice, and B) so snobby of anyone who doesn’t have a special authour shed in the woods to write from.

    November 15, 2018
    |Reply
    • New Fan
      New Fan

      Special author shed… pshaw. No the most expensive… err … effective ones are wall-less palm shelters in Tahiti. Or Cuba b/c that’s rebellious.

      November 15, 2018
      |Reply
  7. Evil!Blonde Bitch
    Evil!Blonde Bitch

    The comment of “people with an internet connection shouldn’t be writing fiction, wah!!!!!” is such a fucking bizarre “rule,” I can’t even parse it in a way that makes sense. Is he saying the wild free speech of Internetlandia will poison your thoughts? Is he saying the Internet makes you stupid? WHAT DOES HE MEAN?
    It’s probably another elitist thing. Unless you can afford to fuck off to a cabin in the woods and write alone in Solitude and Freedom and exploring Darkness of the Soul, you can’t be a good writer, you pleb. We must experience Freedom and Wonder and Lack of Facebook to write anything meaningful!!
    Bleh. I can’t even with his elitist bullshit. “Fiction that isn’t an adventure into the unknown shouldn’t be written except for money!”
    PEOPLE ARE POOR, BITCH. WHEN YOU HAVE NO MONEY YOU DO WHAT IT TAKES TO SURVIVE. I WILL TAKE A PORNY COMMISSION IF THAT’S WHAT MAKING MONEY MEANS. I KNOW YOU CAN’T SEE THAT FROM YOUR IVORY TOWER, BUT IF A “PERSONAL ADVENTURE INTO THE FRIGHTENING” ISN’T WRITTEN BY A WHITE MAN, IT GENERALLY WON’T SELL.
    And yeah! I do write for myself sometimes! Every writer does! But that shit is meant for ME, and not for audiences, because usually, it’s BAD. It’s just me exorcising my personal demons and usually has no literary value!

    God, mediocre white men with giant platforms make me so fucking mad.

    On the bright side, Jenny, I’m delighted every time you make a call out post. Delicious, delicious schadenfreude.

    November 15, 2018
    |Reply
    • Anon
      Anon

      I can say having the Internet does distract me and cause me to spend less time writing. However, it doesn’t affect the quality of what I do write. And that’s a matter of discipline, not talent or ability.

      I agree — it’s probably the most bizarre thing on the list!

      And the one about interesting verbs … And then he uses “very” and I want to send him a copy of Dead Poets Society.

      November 16, 2018
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    • ViolettaD
      ViolettaD

      Balzac used to write in the bathtub, with his current girlfriend bringing him coffee at regular intervals. He wasn’t allowed to get out until he had churned out a certain number of pages. And yes, he needed the money.

      November 22, 2018
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  8. Drea C
    Drea C

    I read The Corrections a couple of years ago and I can’t understand why his books are praised. It was the melba toast of novels about a “regular” Midwestern couple and their adult children. I don’t think this man has ever met a poor person. Every character is at least upper middle class. And yes, the book is full of depressed suburban dads watching porn in the basement and professors dating their young, beautiful students.

    November 15, 2018
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    • Nanani
      Nanani

      Given that privileged white dudes are fucking boring, then the fact that “personal autobiographical journeys” by the above are even more fucking boring should not be a surprise.

      The surprise is that they still get treated as worth reading in any way by anyone ever

      November 16, 2018
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      • liminal fruitbat
        liminal fruitbat

        This raises the question of what unknown he thinks he’s exploring.

        Unless he’s admitting that he’s only in it for the money.

        November 18, 2018
        |Reply
  9. New Fan
    New Fan

    Yes, yes… all of this YES! I read it, and all annoyed me, YET (then) I could not help myself from focusing in on that research one.
    Oh it made my blood boil; above that temperature at which blood boils. Certainly, I think, at some temperature below which rock becomes lava. But I am not sure. I thought of it, but decided knowledge I didn’t know would require me to chase it. And I was sitting as advised. And research is so over.

    November 15, 2018
    |Reply
  10. Mike
    Mike

    I’m going to give his list a very, VERY generous reading and suggest that his comment about internet research was saying that since everyone has access to the internet there’s no excuse for poor research, and so it’s now just a basic requirement rather than something you should expect praise for. I’ll also suggest that his ‘internet at work’ comment is that he’s one of those people who can regularly afford to go on ‘writers retreats’ where he goes and writes in a place with no distractions of modern technology. Though that one doesn’t make it less elitest, just differently so.

    At least that’s how I HOPE he meant them, because I can’t make myself stop giving people the benefit of the doubt, even in this day and age… You would think that part of me would have shriveled up and died by now, but there it is. I really do hate it when people say ‘don’t do it for the money’ as though art can only be good when it’s ‘pure’ of capitalist influences while also charging for their own art and expecting you to not see that as hypocritical. I see this with youtubers all the time too. They say ‘don’t get into it for the money!’ Which I understand is meant to tell people that it’s a slow slog and only a tiny percentage can actually make a living at it, so if it’s something you really want to do you should have an alternative motivator. But goddammit, when you’re dirt poor and you have limited options, but writing, or making videos is something you have the ability to do without money up front, don’t try and tell me not to do it with money on the brain. It’s meaningless. Yeah JK Rowling had a story she wanted to tell and that’s why she wrote Harry Potter, but she was also hoping it would help her feed her children and avoid ever having to be homeless again. That’s why she kept submitting it to publishers even after getting multiple rejections. Because art doesn’t exist in a vaccuum and people need money to goddamn well live and a traditional job doesn’t always cut it!

    I would very much like to add to his list, something that he should consider following; don’t punch down.

    November 15, 2018
    |Reply
    • Aletheia
      Aletheia

      1) Time does not always age advice well. Bad advice will continue to be bad, and good advice will turn sometimes sour as well.

      2) Flippancy does not always age well, either.

      3) Franzen’s advice is bad advice and unnecessarily flippant advice – an unwelcome combination that deserves the ridicule it’s gathering him.

      November 16, 2018
      |Reply
    • Dove
      Dove

      Franzen’s supporters need to calm their tits. No one is directly harassing Franzen over social media; this is an individual domain with a link to Jenny’s twitter feed. Also, ten years ago this advice would still be vague and elitist. The only difference now is that smartphones are more widespread and Franzen probably would’ve mentioned it in #8.

      November 16, 2018
      |Reply
    • Kyerin
      Kyerin

      The lithub article states that the list is printed in a 2018 collection of essays by Franzen, which would suggest at the least that he stands by his words even if they are originally from 2010.

      November 17, 2018
      |Reply
  11. Bookjunk
    Bookjunk

    Jesus, this list.

    November 16, 2018
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  12. Philip Saunders
    Philip Saunders

    “Insufferable, pretentious thoughts that he felt like everyone else should hear.”

    Interesting, because that turns out to be a pretty good description of your article. As one of the cis white male authors you hate so much, I now feel more determined than ever to be successful. Privilege is glorious. Thanks for the motivation!

    I’d also throw in some of my special white male advice for you: maybe if you weren’t such an envious, bitter, projecting loser you would be a half-decent writer. Judging from your content so far, reaching this goal will most likely be impossible for you. My suggestion would be to get a job.

    November 16, 2018
    |Reply
    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      …I’m a USA Today bestselling author with over a decade of experience in the industry, multiple awards, and numerous television and radio appearances. This *is* my job, Phil.

      November 16, 2018
      |Reply
    • Bookjunk
      Bookjunk

      You’re not *just” a cis white male author, though, are you? I’ve been following Jenny for a long time now and she doesn’t hate those. You’re a cis white male author who’s also an arrogant douche. Fuck off.

      November 16, 2018
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    • Anon
      Anon

      Well, Philip … you took this blog post a bit personally, didn’t you? Defensiveness is always telling. Have you ever read Hamlet?

      November 16, 2018
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    • Ah, there it is – the accusation of envy. Because of course, Sir Jonathan of Franzen couldn’t possibly be wrong, and anyone who dislikes him or disagrees with him MUST be jealous of his white, manly genius.

      November 16, 2018
      |Reply
    • Dove
      Dove

      Haha, you’re even mansplaining it. That’s so cute. :’)

      November 16, 2018
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    • ViolettaD
      ViolettaD

      “Stick to your teaching, Miss Alcott. You can’t write.” – Publisher James T. Fields to Louisa May Alcott.

      November 22, 2018
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      • ViolettaD
        ViolettaD

        You might have heard of her name. Anyone familiar with his?

        November 22, 2018
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    • Lily
      Lily

      Ok, I give up. Are you the sales rep? The dentist? The referee? I binged your name, but can’t find any authors, unless you maybe wrote about dentistry. Help me out, dude.

      November 26, 2018
      |Reply
    • MamaLich
      MamaLich

      ‘As one of the cis white male authors you hate so much, I now feel more determined than ever to be successful. Privilege is glorious. Thanks for the motivation!’

      Maybe you SHOULD be saying this to Franzen–since he himself just suggested that works written by CIS white men like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman (and Tolkien, and Edgar Allan Poe, and Ernest Hemmingway, and…) are completely worthless because they’re not like HIS adventures of the ‘frightening and unknown’. Jenny’s the one who pointed out that his statements are actually very shitty towards genre fiction authors, especially women. I guess reading comprehension isn’t your kind of thing?

      November 26, 2018
      |Reply
  13. Anon
    Anon

    “Also, since when are ‘too many ands’ a problem?”

    If you genuinely want an answer to this question, I recommend this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22238371-the-marauders?from_search=true

    He’s genuinely not wrong about “too many ands,” but this is probably not what he means. This writer just needed someone to tell him commas exist.

    I don’t think I will ever understand why male writers are nearly always narcissistic. This doesn’t seem to be an issue for women writers. Obviously, some, but not nearly as many.

    November 16, 2018
    |Reply
  14. Nanani
    Nanani

    I saw several responses and parodies of this list before I ever saw the list, and not until Jenny’s version with funny commentary was I able to actually read the OP without my eyes glazing over from the sheer palid vapidity of it.

    This “advice” is a flavourless vape on a smoggy afternoon.

    November 16, 2018
    |Reply
  15. The one about sitting still and not chasing, annoys me the most. Sure, sometimes it’s good to stop and think about things. But nobody ever got anywhere by sitting still. Meditation won’t magically write a book for you or make an illustration for you or choreograph a dance audition for you, etc. Whatever career in arts you’re pursuing, you will need to do the pursuing. You will need to do the actual work. Seriously, I hate this advice so much. There’s already so many aspiring creatives that get mentally paralysed waiting for the perfect fully formed idea to materialise.

    November 16, 2018
    |Reply
    • Dove
      Dove

      This. Artists of every type have to make things happen. Very rarely does it all fall into their lap, which simply makes them extremely lucky (or unlucky, depending on what that teaches them about life and their given art form.)

      November 16, 2018
      |Reply
    • Actually I read that one as thinly veiled panic – that if the writers with actual talent had more confidence to get their books in front of readers, everyone might realise Franzen’s just another middling white cis male hack with delusions of grandeur.
      SO NO, PEOPLE, YOU MUST NOT CHASE YOUR DREAMS!
      SIT STILL AND THEY WILL COME TO YOU!
      LOOK INTO MY EYES AND BELIEVE IT…

      November 16, 2018
      |Reply
    • Black Knight
      Black Knight

      Actually, this one I do give a (perhaps too) kind reading to. I didn’t take it to mean anything about how we should live our lives per se – that we should sit around instead of pursuing our goals.

      I really thought he was simply talking about gathering material for writing, since all writers take from real life to at least some degree. At a big party, say, I *do* learn more about human behavior, which I can then make use of in my writing, by sitting and watching other people for a bit than when I’m making the rounds networking.

      That really is all I thought Franzen was trying to say with that, that if you want to gather material for writing, sit and observe a little instead of rushing around all the time. It’s stated tritely – Jenny’s comment about having seen an inspirational poster about it at the dentist’s office is spot-on – but it’s not actively terrible or elitist advice like the rest of the rules.

      November 16, 2018
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    • Dove
      Dove

      Yes! Also some of the comments. XD

      November 16, 2018
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    • A
      A

      Okay, this is upsetting. I’m blocked from viewing Chuck Wendig’s twitter and I have no idea why.

      November 17, 2018
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      • Miimers
        Miimers

        He mentioned some days ago that he’d used a blocklist when his mentions were getting swamped with GGaters and their garbage relatives and it blocked a lot of good people at the same time. So if you’re blocked and don’t know why, there’s a good chance you were for some reason on that list and blocked accidentally

        November 17, 2018
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      • Jenny Trout
        Jenny Trout

        Honestly, I stopped caring about Wendig’s twitter after he defended E.L. James from romance authors who were “just trying to get on Buzzfeed” when we were criticizing the rape and abuse in Fifty Shades. He reduced all of our valid concerns to us being jealous and fame hungry.

        He also used to be a massive Sea Lion that a lot of romance authors have blocked due to past incidents where he would search his name and then mansplain why whatever thing he’d said wasn’t anti-feminist. I’m hoping that he’s gotten better now, but about four years ago, he didn’t want female authors talking about anything on Twitter without his express approval or boy howdy, he was going to make a thread about it. And if this was pointed out by women, his fanboys rushed into the fray to mansplain why he was really our ally and we were all ungrateful.

        He’s left a really bad taste in my mouth over the way he’s treated authors I respect.

        November 17, 2018
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        • Tez Miller
          Tez Miller

          Yep, I was one of those people he blocked around then.

          (More recently the cishetboy comics community went after him for not pandering to their cishetboyness, or something. I’m against Chuck for other reasons, but he wasn’t in the wrong here.)

          November 18, 2018
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        • Miimers
          Miimers

          Well that’s all kinds of uncool of him 🙁

          November 18, 2018
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      • ViolettaD
        ViolettaD

        One comment suggested replacing the word “writing” with “furiously masturbating.” That might work very well with Franzen.

        November 22, 2018
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  16. Karen Skedgell-Ghiban
    Karen Skedgell-Ghiban

    I follow Chuck Wendig. That guy’s a hoot and not pretentious at all.

    November 17, 2018
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  17. BloodyRose
    BloodyRose

    I’m picturing a scenario in which Jonathan Franzen wrote something inaccurate and somebody said, “This is inaccurate; a two-second Google search and you could have avoided this error,” and Jonathan Franzen responded quite reasonably with, “HOW DARE YOU FAIL TO NOTICE ALL THE RESEARCH I *DID* PUT INTO THIS! NOBODY APPRECIATES MY GENIUS AND IT IS THE INTERNET’S FAULT.”

    November 17, 2018
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  18. NavigatorBR
    NavigatorBR

    As someone who writes for a hobby, I contest Franzen’s point 5 (Freely available knowledge devalues doing good research for novels) in the strongest possible terms.

    I argue the opposite is true, with increasingly knowledgeable society doing the homework on your writing is increasingly valuable to prevent your story from becoming an unrealistic joke that nobody can take seriously.

    November 18, 2018
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  19. After 50 years of professional writing, I’m aware that there has been a minor improvement among our male colleagues about 30 years ago one of of the Good Old Boys wrote me a letter of apology for being slighting about my work, and mentioned that I probably did not know how “some” of the white guys thought about my work, but he no longer supported their opinion. When I wrote back, I told him that because I was not deaf, dumb, and blind, I was aware of their opinion, but that I would accept his apology because he was willing to admit things the other Good Old Boys would deny existed. So far, he’s the only one who’s had the courage/good manners to do so. And I keep on writing.

    November 18, 2018
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    • Rebecca
      Rebecca

      That was generous of you; his ham-handedness has the same ring of a dude I used to sleep with saying he “defended” seeing me to his friends at the time… Like, okay, generic white guy, I don’t fucking need your defense, but whatevs, cool story bro…

      November 21, 2018
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  20. Jenny (but not Jenny Trout)
    Jenny (but not Jenny Trout)

    WTF is this guy talking about? #4??? If he said don’t use second person, it annoys people, then fine. I’d agree. Even then, I wouldn’t automatically rule it out for everyone on the planet. Some people can make stuff work. And how does he know what POV to use for another author’s story? Just because his story needs 3rd and (I bet) he feels more comfortable writing in third, doesn’t mean another does.

    Number 7. Is he stating s fact? I bet more people are sitting on their butts than chasing their dreams. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do.

    I can’t even with this.

    November 18, 2018
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  21. Corbeau
    Corbeau

    I agree, this list is terrible and utterly useless. It’s actually part of a compilation of lists written by numerous authors and I get the feeling that this half-assed, vapid shit is the result of Jonathan Franzen not wanting to be left out but not having anything to say.

    November 19, 2018
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  22. The promo picture on the article is killing me.

    November 19, 2018
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    • ViolettaD
      ViolettaD

      I believe he means to be post-ironic.

      November 22, 2018
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  23. Saint_Sithney
    Saint_Sithney

    I do have a problem with having the internet while I write… and that problem is crippling imposter syndrome and my personal motto of “Poetic license is no excuse for sloppy research”. I can fall into a week-long Wikihole because I was wondering, say, the best soil conditions to grow grapes and how common that land is in Greece… and that was for a thrown-together NaNoWriMo that I still haven’t cracked 3000 words on because Oh My God, what if I’m not writing the terrain correctly?

    But… this doesn’t seem like the advice is geared towards not being able to write because you’re a pedant in regular life and never learned how to draft and expect yourself to know everything,

    November 19, 2018
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    • Corbeau
      Corbeau

      Considering that a few points back he said that free access to information devalues research, I don’t think he meant too much time on Wikipedia.

      November 20, 2018
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    • MamaLich
      MamaLich

      Personally, I love exploring that level of detail (Stephen King did it with his short story, ‘The Mangler’–he wrote about the mechanics of 1970s-era laundry-folding machinery and yet still made it interesting (he also used soil to describe exactly how rough it is to scratch a living in ‘Salem’s Lot as a farmer)). It’s all about placing the right information in the right places.

      I used to love collecting old and vintage books as a teenager, and honestly? I’ve found so many fiction books that turned out to be time capsules. There’s a lot of things that people knew about but DIDN’T write down, and that information frequently becomes forgotten or lost unless it winds up used as an added detail in a book (plus, history books DO occasionally miss crucial pieces of information. Back in high school, I once had a history class where we got to spend an hour discussing the Irish Famine (and our teacher was making light of the Irish dependence on potatoes, and how their over-reliance on one vegetable led to Irish farmers going into starvation), when one of our classmates went, “Uhh..duh? Potatoes are great to survive on?”–turned out said classmate grew up in a farming community, and he had to explain that not only are potatoes cheap and delicious–but they had tons of vitamins that could be absorbed from the skin alone, could practically grow anywhere (even in a small sack with dirt inside) and when planted, it could somehow put nutrients back in the soil. He also explained that if you only had one potato, you could literally bury it into a patch of dirt and it would grow MORE potatoes. In just five minutes, he left a lasting impression on WHY Irish farmers were so dependent on one vegetable–with information that historians probably didn’t write down because it might’ve come from a farmer’s almanac). So yeah, sometimes something as minute as the soil of a Greek vineyard could have an enormous impact in a story (either as added detail, or the chainlink of a tragedy/famine/economic slump).

      November 26, 2018
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  24. Kate
    Kate

    I puffyheartloveloveLOVE this entire essay. Poncy advice from gits who don’t remember (or never knew) what is is to struggle annoy the everlovin’ piss out of me.

    Particularly when they’re as tone deaf as this.

    November 21, 2018
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  25. K R
    K R

    Um…I write at work. Actually that’s what I was doing before I came to check what was new on this blog. Whenever I have some downtime I type a bit….so the way I understood it was ‘if you’re doing your writing at work, don’t. It sucks’.
    Please, I just finished reading a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while now, it has mostly good reviews and the such, and I can honestly say I didn’t like it. I liked the last 5 pages at most. To me the characters were awful people and since it was a first person narrative, you could see inside their heads and really see what they were thinking. And I’m pretty sure this book was not written at work, or without research. On the other hand, I am reading a web novel that with every chapter I’m amazed at how well it is written. The grammar is spot on. The reason I mention this web novel is because web novels tend to be thought of as amateurish, but just like there is trash being professionally published, there are gems being published as web novels.
    In short, this guy is full of sh*t.

    November 21, 2018
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  26. ViolettaD
    ViolettaD

    Had to look him up.

    To be fair, the Guardian requested the writing guidelines, but they’re kind of meh, anyway.

    You can make upper-class twits interesting (Julian Fellowes made a career out of it, as did early Edith Wharton). You can even make middle-class twits interesting: Mr. and Mrs. Bridge works because the repression of the characters is the point.

    If this guy’s books are boring, it’s his writing, not the class of the characters.

    Btw, his claim to fame is Oprah wanted to list one of his books on her book club. He initially cooperated, then worried publically in an interview that it would be dismissed as a woman’s book, and guys wouldn’t take it seriously. Oprah said she wouldn’t dream of causing him discomfort and cancelled his appearance. The publicity from this incident was what sold most of the copies.

    Haven’t read anything of his but these rules, but he sounds like he’s got his head up his drainpipe.

    Btw, you can be arrogant and still be interesting. Swift’s sermons display the same irascible wit that gave the world “A Modest Proposal” and “The Lady’s Dressing Room.”
    http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/users/m/morillo/public/examples/sermons.html

    Whether Franzen’s writing can achieve the same happy results I leave to those who have the patience to read it.

    November 22, 2018
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    • I’m not even that big a fan of the great and mighty O, but he thought that Oprah Book List sticker would HURT his sales?! Or was that just an instance of wanting a different customer….that there are fewer of?

      November 24, 2018
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      • ViolettaD
        ViolettaD

        Too many girly readers would make his Magnum opus chicklit. None of those awards, etc.

        November 25, 2018
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    • Mike
      Mike

      “And the person who’s been lucky in life can’t help expecting the world to keep going his way; when the world insists on going wrong ways, corrupt and tasteless ways, he feels betrayed by it.”

      I love how he equates things not continuing to go the way of the privileged as corrupt, tasteless, and wrong. As though the world continuing to heap massive piles of privilege onto those born with a silver spoon in their mouths is somehow the way the world should inherently be. He’s not even saying ways they PERCEIVE as wrong or corrupt, which would make that statement at least somewhat palatable, he frames it as them being correct in that assumption.

      I’m glad you found and linked this. I’d never really heard of this guy before Jenny’s post on him, and then I saw an article by the NYT on him about the current backlash against him. I tried to read it out of curiosity and it was so poorly written that I gleaned NOTHING from it. It was pages and pages of meandering nothing, that never seemed to be capable of getting to any kind of point at all… So now there’s something that’s actually readable to get more insight into this guy who seems to have privilege coming out his ass and spewing onto the paper.

      November 25, 2018
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    • Corbeau
      Corbeau

      Oh for the love of all gods, that was painful to read. I don’t think I could spend more than five minutes in the company of this stuck-up bastard without flipping the bird at him. I haven’t even heard of him until this post so that’s quite an achievement.
      But this part actually made me snicker:
      “The proximate cause of my anger was my failure to have sex with an unbelievably pretty girl in Munich, except that it hadn’t actually been a failure, it had been a decision on my part.” – That was the worst save in the history of saves, maybe ever.

      November 26, 2018
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    • Bookjunk
      Bookjunk

      That article is seriously hilarious. And makes me pity Franzen even more. Win-win!

      November 26, 2018
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    • Why does he care SO MUCH that Rushdie is on Twitter? Not banging young German women makes him angry at old German women who think ‘I guess he’s not using it? Yoink’ and stoop to pick up the perfectly good coins he threw AT THEM?! Who fucking does that, anyway?!
      This guy…this fucking guy.

      November 26, 2018
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    • ViolettaD
      ViolettaD

      ‘The thing about Kraus is that he’s is very hard to follow on a first reading – deliberately hard. He was the scourge of throwaway journalism, and to his cult-like followers his dense and intricately coded style formed an agreeable barrier to entry; it kept the uninitiated out. Kraus himself remarked of the playwright Hermann Bahr, before attacking him: “If he understands one sentence of the essay, I’ll retract the entire thing.”’

      In other words: Emperor. Clothes. New.

      November 26, 2018
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  27. MamaLich
    MamaLich

    ‘Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.’

    Eurgh. When I first read this, I honestly thought that was him being sarcastic. Seriously, that is one harsh definition of what fiction’s ‘worthy’ and what fiction isn’t (and you’re absolutely right that he literally just hand-waved TONS of pioneering work. Because apparently works like Frankenstein, Dracula, Moby Dick, Tales of Earthsea, and even 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are just worthless money-grabbing attempts by their respective authors? Wha?). I also want to point out that if Franzen wants to make a claim on writing ‘the frightening’ and the ‘unknown’–he really needs to make sure that he actually delivers it. I haven’t read any of Franzen’s works–but reading his book summaries (and a few glowing book reviews), I highly doubt he actually did anything that warrants being as philosophical/frightening as say…Ernst Haffner, the journalist/social worker who wrote ‘Blood Brothers’ in Germany during the 1930s (his work then got banned by Nazis, because of its absolutely cutting portrayal of Germany’s then-shitty social services, the homeless youth–and the total apathy/exploitiveness of adults who should have known better). Haffner’s work is still in print, and I honestly would call it as one of the early examples of the ‘Teenage Wasteland’ trope (and the book literally made me feel uncomfortable while reading it. I was torn between, “Holy shit, people LIVED like this?!” and “I KNOW there are a lot of kids today that are living like those boys.”). I definitely recommend reading it though, because the book makes you feel like you’re following Haffner’s footsteps through the seedy underbelly of 1930s Berlin, and I would call THAT an author’s adventure through the frightening and unknown.

    November 26, 2018
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  28. ViolettaD
    ViolettaD

    OMG, this guy is so much more fun than I imagined.

    From: https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/global/2015/aug/21/jonathan-franzen-purity-interview

    “At the age of 40, having spent a decade writing two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion, both of which were well-reviewed and little-sold, he resigned himself to a certain amount of cultural irrelevance, which he attributed not to any failing in himself, but to a failing in the culture.”

    November 27, 2018
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