Monday, November 8, 2010

How to Argue

(Rant warning)

Maybe you’ve picked it up by now, but in case you haven’t,one of my almost universally applicable life rules is this: to each his own.

Going by that rule, it bothers me a little when people try to impose their opinions on others. But I tolerate it, because, well, to each his own. If someone believes that it’s their job to convert everybody in sight, that’s their belief. As long as noone’s physically hurting anyone, not an issue.

There is something that drives me up a wall. I will pick you to shreds for a bad argument. Even if we’re on the same side. Probably more so, because a bad argument on my side, will actually drive people away.

Last week, there was an article at Salon on why you shouldn’t do nano. I'd like to say thanks to the writer for providing such a fab text for today's lesson :)

Without further ado, let’s learn how to argue.

1. Do not present your opinion as a source of fact.

One of the writer’s arguments is that only one worthwhile book has come out of nanowrimo. Poking around the publishing industry blogosphere, I’ve heard several authors say they started in nano. Stephanie Perkins (check out her interview here on Thursday) wrote Anna and the French Kiss, to be released next month, through nano. And arguably, that book has not yet been released. But what of all the other authors who have release nano books? The writer is saying to them: “Your book is worth nothing. Ignore the agent that signed you. Ignore the publishing house that took that gamble. Ignore your sales figures.”

What an insult!

2. Be careful how you label .

The writer of the article (WOA), who admits that she is a reader but has never been a writer, claims that, “Writing a lot of crap is not fruitful.”

Dear WOA, are you saying that only life’s successes have value? If you make the Olympics, but you don’t get gold, this is not a step in the right direction? This is a failure?

3. Avoid the temptation to include irrelevant facts.

WOA says there are too many novels in the world. I agree. I’ve read 40 books in the second half of the year. And my TBR seems to be growing. Because there are a lot of bad books. But there are also a lot of GOOD books.

Should we give authors a limit as to how many books they can write? I know several people would be knocking on WOA’s door when their fave author’s quota ran out.

Can we universally refuse all new books because there are a lot already written? Could you imagine if, in addition to the rejections she racked up, the publishing industry had just told J.K. Rowling, “I’m sorry. We won’t even look at your synopsis. There are too many books in the world.”

4. Avoid sensationalism.

WOA talks about the “narcissistic commerce of writing,” claiming that there’s more money to be made off wannabe authors than readers.

Maybe wannabe writers spend more per person. But I would have difficulty believing that there’s more money made in writing books than in all the Harry Potters, all the Twilights, all the Stephen Kings, all the Danielle Steeles, all the Nicholas Sparks, etc.

5. If there’s blame to be assigned, please put it in the right place.

WOA admits early on, that the nano site advises you to revise, but then goes on to damn nanowrimo because some people don’t.

6. Don’t ignore important factors

Nowhere does WOA mention the large nano population who do this just for fun. The guys who write 200,000 fan fics every year, that they have no intention of showing to anyone but their friends.

7. Play fair

If you write an article about doing or not doing nano, I assume your audience is writers. So pointing out, in a condescending manner, that hardly anyone will read an author’s book will probably just piss them off.

Also, this gem: “NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it's largely unnecessary.”


Woosah. Deep breaths, Claire.

8. Don’t presume you can speak for groups you’re not a part of.

WOA points out that agents grumble about their inflated inboxes in December. I know they do. But obviously, weighing the possibility of finding WATER FOR ELEPHANTS in their inbox, versus, the usual first draft nano, it’s clearly worth it. Because if it wasn’t, agents would just close their inboxes in December and January.

9. Don’t presume to speak about fields you don’t know.

WOA dismisses nano, saying that any book that you write during nano, you could write otherwise. WOA has never written a book. She has no idea how hard 50,000 words are. How around 10,000 you start thinking you’re crazy. How that other idea you have halfway through makes it seem like you should desert this one. How you’ve been starting novels for 11 years, and have never finished one.

10. Think before you complain

WOA complains that authors are persistent, sometimes even in the face of everyone telling them they suck.

She’s right. And she’d better be glad about it.

When Stephen King first wrote Carrie, he threw it in the trash. His wife saved it, and now that last scene is one of the best known scenes in movie history. The list of authors with stacks of rejection slips is endless. If authors weren’t persistent, all your reading material would come from the 19th century and before.

11. Don’t transpose arguments

The original point of the article was not to do nanowrimo. Somewhere along the way it turned into “this is why writers suck.” I don’t know how it happened or why. But this always weakens an argument.

12. Be careful using some to represent all.
Occasionally at dinner parties, someone would say that they’re aiming to be a writer. To which WOA would ask, “what do you read?” and the person would be all, “I don’t have time to read. I’m busy writing.”

First, let me point out, that there are times when you don’t have time for anything but the writing. Like right now, during nano . (Although I am reading a craft book, but I don’t count because I’m so easily distracted.) That does not mean I don’t usually read. I read 10 books in June. 10 more in July. 10 more in August. And 10 more in September. And if it weren’t for my job’s blatant attempts to take my life in October, it would probably be just like that too.

Even if these people that she talks to, never have time to read, they are the few. Check out the Bookanistas- they’re all writers, and they all read and post reviews almost every week.

13. Don’t make a competition where there’s none.
WOA asks that we celebrate readers. She gives two examples who read 10 books from January to October. While I appreciate this is way above the American average of 1 a year, 10 doesn’t thrill me either, probably because I do that in a month. And tons of my friends on the blogosphere have surpassed that too.

But that’s not even the point. How does celebrating writers stop us from celebrating readers?

14. Let your points lead to your conclusions. (logic)

Readers are awesome. Ignore the writers.

Excuse me if I fail to see how readers can be awesome if writers aren’t. Maybe writers are just shovelling the poop. But it’s the readers who like frolicking in it.

Here are just some of the ways you can make your arguments better. Are there any techniques people use in arguments that bother you?


Abby Stevens said...

Excellent points on how to (and how not to) argue fairly and logically!

Alleged Author said...

What wonderful points! People sometimes do it more for the experience and practice than anything else. Thank you so much for this!