Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reading manuscripts

I like reading manuscripts on paper because I can discard pages as I go along, which gives me a great sense of accomplishment. Reading most manuscripts is a chore -- it takes a great deal of stamina to get through them. Too many words, not enough ideas. This is especially true if you read on an e-reader, where the words just keep coming at you, and you can't throw any portion of them out. The most satisfying moment is reaching the last page, crumpling it up and tossing it into the trash bin. What a light-hearted feeling.

You have to ponder the case of this word-making human animal who kept writing and writing, despite having so little to say, having discovered nothing of this world, nor any other. One thing for sure: in this day and age, it is easier being a writer than it is being a reader. Which is why there are so many of them, writers, that is.

I read a manuscript the other day and every word in the first chapter was false. The writer didn't see it. He probably thought he was being clever.
Let's see, if I place this word after this word and conjoin them to this clause, I will get a sentence. Aha. And if I string enough of them together...lo and behold, a paragraph. Etcetera. The words carried no meaning, added up to nothing. Sure, it was acceptable English prose. Orthography and syntax were correct. Yippee. And this manuscript came with a cover letter from an agent, the usual blather. You know, this little Mouse's book is moving, funny, intelligent, well-researched, the product of many years of study, one of a kind, perfect for your publishing program, and every major house in town is looking at it. So what?

I was going nuts trying to read that shite. My eyes stung, my brain reeled, my bowels constricted, and my hands got chapped from handling so many pages. Pages and pages of deathless prose. Things happened. Characters said things and did things. Physical descriptions abounded like toadstools after a rain shower. Allusions to other books were made. Things happened again. More characters came on the scene. A joke was attempted. It fell flat. The author butted in and made a extraneous observation. Banality was raised to the nth degree. Dust mites settled on the scene. A perfect stasis was achieved. My boredom was complete, my scalp itched and my sinuses got stuffy.

Maybe you can blame it on the computer. It's so easy to write and revise, to add more words, to cut-and-paste, to type away at the keyboard, oblivious to the effective weight of any given word, soldiering on in the vain hope that if you string enough words together, well,
something might come of it. For so many self-selected writers, nothing does come of it. The words lie inertly on the page, jammed up against each other without throwing off a single spark of meaning. Ain't it sad to see the glorious English language reduced to making filler?

It would be nice if would-be writers did a little hard thinking before sitting down in front of their computers. It would be nice if there were a moratorium on memoirs, wan fiction in the MFA genre, micro-histories and macro-histories, self-help guides, inspirational strivings, culinary journeys, and ineffective stabs at popular fiction. All those competently composed efforts that leave one numb because nothing gets said. Another three hundred pages in the trash, another step closer to blindness. Yup, it's a whole helluva lot easier to write this stuff than it is to read it. Maybe that's why we get paid money to do it.

No comments:

Post a Comment