Last week, Editorial Assistant Annarose Russo and I had a discussion about our inability to read anything, in that case a press release, without mentally applying the tenets of AP style.
That’s what we use here at your newspaper, by the way. It’s the reason you read things like, “The mayor said there are more than 50 potholes on Main Street,” rather than, “The mayor said there are over fifty holes on Main St.”
Once you’ve reported, and especially once you’ve edited, in AP style for a while, you can recognize it when you see it in other publications immediately.
Or at least I can, and I hardly think I’m special.
Unfortunately for me, my adherence to AP style has grown and spread. I tweet in AP style. I almost always text in AP style, especially if I’m texting a current or former colleague.
If I don’t, they’ll know. But would they care?
Probably not; it’s not like I’ve had people chide me for texting colloquially. No, this is more a me thing. I know how things should be according to AP style—the rules I live by as the deputy editor of your newspaper—and I have to write them that way.
So, that’s all pretty straightforward. I work in AP style, so it bleeds over into other writing I do, day-to-day.
But here’s something you may not realize and, frankly, it makes my life—and I’d think the lives of all writers—more difficult.
When you know how to write, it is extremely difficult to read the writing of those who cannot.
Now, I’m not so much talking about emails and texts. I think we all accept a certain degree of informality there, whether we’re slaves to AP style or not. I’m talking about other professional writing; writing for which I know someone was paid.
When that’s bad, it makes me angry.
What do I mean by bad? I don’t mean fiction with a clichéd or holey plot and I don’t mean editorialized or effervescent journalism, although those are all bad too.
I’m talking about things like passive voice, adverbs, speech tags other than “said,” haphazard—or invisible—commas, an utter inability to properly place a semi-colon, capriciously shifting POV and exclamation points.
All exclamation points!
Well, nearly all.
When you know what you’re doing as a writer—which, by the way, you learn far more by writing badly for years than you do any other way—your tolerance for published ineptitude erodes to a pitted nub.
I’m well aware this may all read like snobbery, but the reality is it’s largely jealousy. Few writers are as published as they want to be—I’m no exception to that, certainly from a fiction standpoint—so it can be quite irksome to crack a paperback and not escape the first page before my eyes trip over a sentence ending in a preposition or reading something she exclaimed or he said proudly.
It’s a downer for all writers. You don’t have to take my word for it, either. Ask the writers around you, they’ll tell you.
But, for me, the problem runs deeper.
When it comes to my fiction, I’ve settled into what is called New Pulp by its participants and its all-too-few readers. To put it succinctly, new pulp is stories and characters suggesting the tone and texture, if not the trappings, of the works of men like Robert E. Howard, Lester Dent and the various Maxwell Grants.
Don’t know who they are? You won’t like this stuff. But that’s OK, you don’t need to know or like Sailor Steve Costigan, Doc Savage or The Shadow to understand my plight.
Because New Pulp is such a burgeoning, niche subgenre, not everything published under its auspices is, you know, good. Or even particularly professional.
Not long ago, I bought a New Pulp book—a print book, mind you, not even an eBook—about an adventuring aviator and his group of helpers tasked with rescuing a powerful man’s daughter from a remote island.
So my thing.
Except the book was unreadable. I threw it after Chapter Three.
And that’s part of my overall dilemma. I’m extremely grateful New Pulp exists and there’s a market for it at all but, when I read and throw things like that book, I feel it damages the subgenre as a whole and, by extension, its potential for success and, by extension, my potential for success.
I’m not convinced this entire visit won’t leave you thinking of me as a snob. I suppose maybe I just wanted a bit of sympathy for me, Editorial Assistant Annarose Russo and all of us whose job, and we would say calling, it is to pound these keyboards in just the correct sequence that will properly inform and entertain you.
If I was going to put a positive spin on all this, I’d say you know you’re a writer when most reading becomes insufferable.
That’s positive, all right; positively frustrating.
Reach Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas