Circles, Silos, Niches

Creative writing for the likeminded — and ONLY the likeminded

I sometimes take the opportunity to rant. This is a rant.

It appears that the entire intent of ‘literature’ and ‘poetry’ is to create and define niches. Because the world — read: virtual world — is so vast, everyone is trying to cut a little piece of the landscape and call it ‘home.’ But, there are only certain guests that can and will be invited into these ‘homes.’

Open call for writers from ___ with experience in ___ and a ___ background.

The creative writing world is laser-focusing on the micro-niche. Only certain writers and certain readers will interact in shared, manufactured spaces. People will read what they write and write what they read, creating a tight, closed, exclusive little circle.

  • Poetry contest.
  • Submit to our ___ theme.
  • Only $25 and every entry gets a “free” one-year subscription.

The likeminded buy their way into likeminded publications that create a reader-base on a specific call. I understand the need for reading fees and the likes in a world where funding is dwindling; this said, the original need becomes a foundation for niche-building. Each publication becomes a silo that contains only the “type” of writing seeded in calls, inflating circulation numbers to readers who bought a subscription. That year wasn’t free.
Exclusive content only $___ per month.

$3 here, $5 there, $15 hither, $25 yon… all to buy into a place that feels like ‘home.’ But all the people there, the likeminded, they also bought in, for the same reasons, sparked by the same call, the same ‘experience,’ the same ‘background.’ The home is peopled with writers that sound the same, think the same, read the same…

…creating a tight, closed, exclusive little circle.

I miss the days of pulp mags, of mags that published a variety of conflicted, conflicting, interesting stuff. Now many — and I should note that it’s not ALL — journals or mags or publications just put out pages of I’ve-seen-this-before-and I-can-pretty-much-guess-what’s-coming-next.

Break the circle – Write outside the silo – Make the world your niche

Traceable Genesis

Wherever your ideas comes from, be it image, fact, lie, it is interesting to have some type of documentation surrounding those ideas. Maybe there is a biographical link, a creative link, an environmental link, a detail that someone, somewhere, sometime will pick up about your piece. Because the original ideas are oftentimes NOT the core of a story or poem, they can add a certain depth for the serious reader. Having the ability to “uncover” these gems can be very rewarding to the parsers. To others, this type of backstory doesn’t matter. That’s great. Writing should be for different audiences. But giving the hardcore fans, the historical sleuths, the biographers of the future something to discover can be satisfying.

Writing can be a jigsaw puzzle. Although the endgame is a complete image/narrative, the process, the construction, the genesis is mostly lost to readers. Just imaging the exhilaration of finding a little piece of the puzzler inside the puzzle — a tidbit, a factoid, a revelation. This can elevate the serious reader to another level.

Biographical content is not necessarily the key. “Write what you know” can be the worst advice a writer could attempt to follow. This said, if there is a cool detail that lead to your piece, a detail that you can jot down somewhere in a journal, kept safe for future discovery, that is a priceless nugget. Even if it is totally unnecessary for the final fiction, that nugget can add so much to someone who had taken the time to discover it.

With practice, and by following your personal voice, style, aesthetic, these nuggets will start to manifest in the overarch of your oeuvre: links, parallels, juxtapositions that alone mean nothing; bits that taken together, maybe with the addition of extra-textual notes, become beacons of meaning.

That’s why it is important to save your notebooks, to have someone who knows about them, someone who will, eventually, help the world decipher the hidden stories within your stories.

The author is dead, maybe, but long live the author!

A cardinal / Keep the old words alive

Keeping old books, stories, poems alive is important. Once something isn’t new or on the shelf anymore doesn’t mean it should fade into obscurity. Digital publications that go offline, presses that die, journals that shutter their doors, all contribute to this growing issue of slow word death. Make it a point to seek out and preserve these. Take a screen shot. Find an old, abandoned review and share it. Long live the old-ish stuff!

Here is a poem published 10 years ago in a now defunct magazine. Glad I have my contributor copies.

Originally Published in Envoi, UK, 2011.
Original Cover Nov 2011

Write like cinnamon

Why does fresh ground cinnamon taste better? Does it actually taste better? Either way, there is a difference.

2 sticks © R L Raymond

To me, the act of rasping the cinnamon into coffee grounds, onto an apple, into a barbecue rub adds to the experience. There is an ownership of the spice, an effort in making the most of the ingredient that elevates it. Instead of just tapping a few shakes from a plastic jar, you actually make the flavour come alive through action.

How does this apply to writing? Simply. Don’t use canned ideas, expressions, clichés, styles, conventions. Make something new. Create something never done. Act on your writing. Go beyond the idea of stringing words together; go deeper, into sound, structure, meaning, history, foundations. Writing should be active and not a passive exercise in retelling. This is best exemplified in Hollywood these days. Reboots. Reruns. Retellings. All boring, adding nothing new… When a well written, original movie comes along, it truly stands out. In each case, there is a conscientious effort to make a masterpiece, outside and beyond what already exists.

Practice by reading different styles, from different sources, from different cultures. Soon, you’ll transcend the words, you’ll find the elemental spice that make the work unique, vibrant, original. Then find your own ingredients, break them down to the constituent parts, build your own, fresh literary recipe.

Not any closer

at a dinner party 
in Pittsburg
holding the knife
in her left hand
fork in her right
so european
she glares at him
french vinaigrette dripping
from the mesclun
on the tines pointing down
the wrong way

- Can’t you take anything seriously?

his lamb is rare
the plate red-rimmed

“Feel my cheek -
the smoothness
look at the tissue -
blood specked bulls-eye
on my neck…
then tell me I’m not taking this seriously.”

From Weakdays, Corrupt Press

Of Sycophants & Haters

The beauty of online communities, networks, publications, is the abundance of information available. We can learn anything, from anyone, at any time. However wonderful this is, there are too many traps to fall into.

Crickets © R L Raymond

Learn from the Teachers

A lot of advice — a lot — comes from novices, learners, students. This may seem fantastic, a fresh pool of opinions to draw from. It is, however, important to remember that Teachers and Masters have learned from experience. They show what they’ve done, more than expound on what they think should be done. The best example is a college/university course. Would you rather sit in a room with an experienced professor, or with a fourth year student lecturing? Ask yourself what is the difference?

The same holds true for writers. Trust those who have been published, those who have been rejected, those who have proven themselves over time. Sure the new kid on the block may throw his or her ideas out there, but often those are conceptual instead of experiential. Also, those new insights are often ‘borrowed’ or ‘reworded.’ It takes time and living the life to really have the ability to pass along wisdom.

Ignore the Sycophants

However good it feels to have someone like you and / or your writing, there is seldom much value in the sycophant’s comments.

Great writing!

I love what you did here.

Perfect as always!

This ego-stroking, heart-clicking, thumb-upping advice does little to challenge, advance, spark an internal discussion. Beware the folks that fawn over your stuff. Maybe there are ulterior motives (reciprocation, follows/likes by association), but certainly there are few constructive motives.

Don’t Ignore the Haters

Unless a reader is castigating just to castigate, or baiting, or trolling, there may be some useful nuggets of wisdom in the vitriol.

Man, could you drone on any longer!

Wow, haven’t seen this a thousand times.

None of this really connects.

Somewhere, inside that dark cloud that weighs on the writer, there is a silver lining. Maybe a short sentence would work here and there. Maybe that was a weak piece.
Those readers who take the time to criticize, hopefully politely, will give you pause. Are they on to something? Is the challenge worthy? Could this be improved?

Now, take the compliments when deserved and ignore the insults when unwarranted. But, if you are truly searching for lessons, for improvement, place more weight in those that have done it before, for real, in the real world, and that have something to say that may actually make you uncomfortable.

Almost alien

Make your writing unusual

Seasonal Blue Moon © R L Raymond (Aug 21, 2021)

One of the best aspects of creative writing is the ability to manipulate, transform, mystify. Taking the everyday and making it sublime, ridiculous, awe-inspiring is a skill any writer should hone.

Anyone can describe. It takes a special talent to change what one sees in order to make in interesting, provocative, evocative for a reader. The “stuff” is the same, that original inspiration, but the execution is what counts. Without the ability to engage and entertain, we would all be but scribes, recording the everyday.

When you are writing, exercising the voice and vibe that makes the writing yours, remember that you must run everything through the filter of you. Failure to make the world around you yours, presented in such a way as to bring your world to others, will only result in boring retelling or rewording.

Always ask yourself:
● Is it presented in a new way?
● Is it exciting?
● Will people care?

Always answer:
● Yes
● Yes
● Yes

Voice Over Everything

The most important aspect of writing is voice: that feel, sound, or signature thing that makes a piece identifiable as a particular writer’s work. Inevitably a writer just starting out will copy a mentor’s voice — subconsciously or not — to start understanding what makes it interesting. Then, through craft, experience, more reading, more experimenting with different mimicry, the writer begins to sculpt a signature vibe. Because it can only develop through careful, calculated practice, true voice may take years to articulate.

Read some of your own juvenilia; does it sound different? odd? bad? not like you? Most likely, that old writing was not crafted with your current voice. Note that your writing will change slightly, as does the way you speak: maturity, lifestyle, location, all will creep in. But this is honing of your voice. This application of life differs from the first stages of development. Early Hemingway (or King, Munro, Yeats, Garcia Marquez, Alexis, Doolittle, McCarthy…) has a different feel than later Hemingway, but the voice is there, loud, clear, identifiable.

Read. Read again. Read something different. Read something you dislike. 

Write. Write some more. Write in a style you aren’t used to. Write in a style you detest.

Although the intangibility of voice can be frustrating, the importance of voice is paramount. When writing, ask yourself: what makes the story yours; outside of physical detail, could someone identify it as yours; what could you add, change, delete, to make it more yours? Eventually all these mechanics, these nuances will start to flow naturally, giving life to your own inner rhythms, rhymes, metres, in the form of voice.