Punk Write!

This piece, by Graham Storrs, originally appeared on his site on 4/10/09.

The first I heard about punk rock was in about 1975 when some kid handed me a pamphlet on the street. It was a manifesto of sorts. It had the chord diagrams for C, F and G drawn on it and, underneath, the words, “That’s all you need to know. Now go and form a rock band.”

There was some other stuff too about taking popular music back out of the hands of the elitist establishment. I was 20 at the time and already too old to get excited about wearing bin bags and big boots but the message resonated with me all the same. Music didn’t have to be handed down from above. It was time ordinary people took control of their own artistic expression.

This memory came back to me today when I read a blog post by Nicola Morgan. Now I think Nicola is great, and full of sound edvice about how to get published. As someone who wants to be published, I read Nicola’s blog –  along with several other excellent blogs offering similar advice from other credible professionals and industry insiders – and I try to learn the lessons they contain. I accept completely that, if being published is your goal, you should definitely pay close attention to people like Nicola. She has certainly earned the right to give advice. Check out her website to see some of the many books she has published.

Yet what she wrote today left me feeling unsettled and uneasy. In particular, this paragraph (emphases are Nicola’s.)

And here’s the thing: all the agents and publishers who rejected me during my now well-documented and shameful 21 years of failing, were RIGHT. And I am even grateful to them. …See, I believed I was good enough a writer – which we have to believe, in order to keep going, don’t we? And yet at the same time, we also need to recognise that there’s something about what we’re doing that isn’t yet good enough. That’s the dilemma, the razor-edge we have to walk along. And all that is why I’m deeply grateful (and not even through gritted teeth) to all of them for not publishing my substandard stuff.”

What disturbs me so much about this is the way Nicola seems to have rejected her own assessment of the quality of her writing completely, in favour of the assessments made by agents and publishers. On the one hand, I can see that it is absolutely necessary to do this in order to be published (since agents and publishers are the gatekeepers.) On the other, the disturbing thing is the degree to which she seems to have internalised the industry’s judgement of what quality means.

The quibblers among you might think I’m exaggerating the case and that all Nicola is saying is, “do what publishers want and you’ll get published.” But she’s not. Look at that bit right at the centre of her paragraph, “we also need to recognise that there’s something about what we’re doing that isn’t yet good enough.” She could have said it was not yet “to their taste”, for example, but she used the words “good enough”.

Read the rest of the article on Graham Storr’s site.