Beware the writer who teaches writing

I observe that other writers love to teach readers about writing.  I "observe" this, because I don't share the urge to run writing workshops, give seminars on writing, write books about how to write, or even give blog tips on pronoun usage.  Truth in ranting:  I do belong to a peer writing workshop, where I give criticism in order to receive it, so, at some level, I am complicit in the system.

In other entries, I've talked about the sins of writing:  the ways writers consistently and persistently convey reality incorrectly, either through the inherent problems of fiction, or their own mental inadequacy, or (ahem) the unreasonable demands of their readers.

To the extent that teaching writing does the same thing, and is effective at doing it--explain to the would-be writer how to convey reality, or inner states, or fantastic situations, or suspense better in functional and elegant prose-- to that extent does it risk ruining the reading experience.  Why?  Because most writers aren't much good at most of that stuff.

I've become an enormously sensitive reader over the years.  I don't mean perceptive, or anything else virtuous.  I mean princess-and-the-pea sensitive.  Bad sentences leave me queasy, even if the plot is suspenseful.  Characters introduced to exemplify some flaw, and be bested by the virtuous protagonist, infuriate me.  And this last is used way too frequently in my field, speculative fiction.  I won't go on.

But most readers of writing manuals, most attendees at writing workshops, most readers of blogs with writing tips, will not become writers.  They will stay readers.  But they will be more demanding readers.  This may seem good.  Moving the demand curve upward for better-quality writing will increase supply of same.

But I fear that all it does is make you unhappy with what used to be simple pleasures.  I read many popular books in my field and see what makes people like them, without being able to share in that pleasure, because I don't see why the writer couldn't have done the rest of the job up to the same quality.  But the cheerfully clueless readers are made happy by the books, because they don't care about those other issues.

So, beware, you writing students.  Your teachers are actually teaching you to read.  And once you learn how to do it, you can never go back.  Do you really want to make most science fiction and fantasy seem like unreadable dreck?  Whatever will you do with your time?  And how will you talk with your friends?  It will all seem like a lover after the end of the affair, all irritating snorts, bad habits, missed birthdays, and unbearable self-righteousness.

Don't say I didn't warn you.