When I got Craft in the Real World (CitRW) by Matthew Salesses, I did with reservations. I have received a lot of craft advice in my life and have developed a raging rage against most of it. I have shown my whole ass ripping advice from Stephen King to shreds because, how dare?
I never found the words to express why craft advice was making me so angry. I pinned a part on it being prescriptive. One shoe doesn’t fit all, that much I knew. I just didn’t know how to argue for more diverse shoes because everybody was so set on having white sneakers.
I settled on “everything does something, you just have to decide if it is a something you want.”
A valiant attempt but falling short in so many ways. And I didn’t know how to catch the pieces and make them make sense. It was obvious to me. Why could others not see it?
Reading CitRW is like trying to chip a lion out your block of marble for years only to learn that the advice on how to do this was geared at people working clay.
- The Surprise – I though I was just too stupid/bad at it/ incapable.
- The Relief – I can still do this! There is a way and I am not all lost/wrong.
- The Pain – Why did I try to apply the wrong approach for so long?
- The ANGER – Why did nobody tell me this was wrong for me? Why did everybody insist on it being helpful and THE ONLY RIGHT WAY when it is clearly NOT? Why did I suffer through so much perceived failure and the inability to streamline my words and still keep them meaningful?
The realisation that, surrounded by white, mostly allo cishet people – who is there to notice we’re trapped in an ideology of our almost-peers making? White male supremacy is so insidious, we don’t see all its tentacles groping through our lives.
Craft advice with a clear ideology and target audience took a life of its own, pretended that it had no ideology, and was falsely accepted as a neutral thing. Just like not using Deus Ex Machina prevails in western literature because Aristotle didn’t like it and we just took his word for it being bad.
So I just took the word of other white people. I did not reflect on where they got those ideas from. I did not reflect on what the written said about who it was from and who it was for. After all, isn’t SFF a free for all? Shouldn’t the place of magic and spaceships be free from preconceptions?
I guess it should.
Doesn’t mean the readers are free of those. Readers have expectations. And those are learnt as much as writing to meet them is. And the small number of women heroines in SFF only mirrored it’s predominantly male audience, right?
The first five pages of CitRW taught me more about craft then everything else up to that point. The whole book has changed my world. Not the way I write, but how I think about it, how I judge the framework it comes from and the framework I want it to go into.
CitRW also changed the way I beta and CP. I now understand why things work for me better. I can rattle at my perception to better see where the work comes from and how that influences the way it was written. I can start to see your craft and with it your privilege – or lack thereof.
I don’t think my writing has become more palatable to an implied “general audience”. But now I know why and I can consciously think on whether I do want to change things up for them or if I want to stick with a craft that speaks to my desired audience. (My desired audience, quite shockingly, is not middle aged, able bodies allo chishet white men of fair income.)
Also, I am petty and angry. If I had to read stories for them for most of my life, it’s time for payback and for them to read stories for me for a change. If I find enough to identify with an identity so far from mine, so can you.
And, just so you know, I will judge you on your PERCEPTION of craft.