Writers Wanted (for target practice) – Column

Writers Wanted

(for target practice)

by Scott Hefflon

“You Are So Fucking Fired” – The Paper

There’s little more painful than reading bad writing. I mean, I just had a molar pulled. I’m too cheap to buy good prescription drugs (let’s not get into the “recreational” usage of legal and illegal substances which are routinely used as “pain killers” in a more figurative way) and have been popping generic ibuprofen for almost a week, but reading bad writing is even worse than the dull throb of a toothache.

Bad writing doesn’t necessarily have to be bad, it just has to be not good. When you’re done reading something and you have to ask yourself, “What did that just say?” or “What was that piece about again?”, then you’ve just wasted just a little more of your life. If you can’t read something and at least get a “hmm” out of it, why the fuck even bother? It’s infuriating. As much as I dislike watching the evening news (which, for all practical purposes has become tabloid journalism trying to compete with the quick cut editing of movies and cable), at least they have the common decency to repulse me with their trite overviews and morally-superior side comments. At least I get to feel something, even if it is only mild loathing. Bad writing simply leaves you feeling cheated.

There is a major misconception that I as a “rock magazine” editor stumble across so often, I simply can’t turn the other cheek anymore. There is a major difference between gonzo journalism and bad writing. Similar to a comment I once made (one that made me the “Pin the Tail on the Martyr” of a design class I had when I was still under the impression that college was a necessary humiliation I must endure to “make it” in the real world) to a fellow student who described her project as “abstract.” I replied, “That’s not abstract, you just can’t fuckin’ draw.” Luckily, a friend of mine committed suicide and I had a near nervous breakdown because she’d been trying to tell me something was wrong for weeks but I was too self-absorbed to listen attentively, thus missing most of the rest of the class, seeking regular counseling (stealing a good assortment of books from my therapist in the process), and not having to face any of my classmates again. But I digress.

Gonzo journalism makes the arrogant assumption that the writer is as important as the topic of the writing. In theory, it’s an extension of journalism in which the writer is intimately and inextricably involved in the event or topic being discussed, and that “legitimizes” the fringe journalist’s exceedingly personal account. But even in its “out-there” form, there still is form. It’s still supposed to be journalism. Even a bastard child has relatives, despite the relatives’ protestations to the contrary. And that’s where bad writers make their first of many mistakes. Journalism has a point. It has a topic. It relates facts. It conveys information to the reader with, in theory, as little bias as possible. Bad writing is the exact opposite. It conveys bias, with as little information as possible. Unfortunately, bad journalists get fired from their newspapers/TV stations/radio stations and bad writers keep writing, seeing as they’re probably working for free for some ‘zine whose editor either hasn’t the judgment to discern good writing from bad, or is stuck printing such drivel because at least there’s words on the page and perhaps a descriptive phase in there somewhere.

Badly written reviews are the equivalent of “A house on this street burned down. The fire was really big. I mean, really big. It was very bright and it hurt my eyes. I was sent here to review this fire, because I’ve seen fires before. This fire wasn’t as bad as other fires I’ve seen on other streets, but it was pretty bad. Some people got hurt. But firefighters put it out. It took them a while. My friend Sally saw me watching the fire and taking notes. She said it was a pretty good fire too. Then we got some pancakes and they were pretty good, too.” You learn nothing. You’re not entertained. And you want to beat the writer for wasting your time. Or at least you should. Want to, that is.

Gonzo journalism, in its “purest” form, should be the interaction between the observer and the observed. Ga-Zen-tight. Each affects the other. And the writing is merely the physical product of the relationship. It’s the charting of the dynamics that occur. While the gonzo journalist is intimately involved with his/her topic, it’s still about the topic. It still describes the topic. It “simply” goes way beyond the physical description of the topic and delves into the impact of the topic upon the witnesses. More than facts and figures, it involves the senses. The topic then becomes personal to the reader – it has smells, it has sounds, it has tactile sensations. It is no longer an isolated account printed in black ink on off-white paper – it is an experience the reader can share with the writer.

Too often, bad writers review CDs without ever describing what they sound like. That, at the very least, is what music is: Sound. To read a review and discover the reviewer really, really liked the CD does absolute dick for me. I mean, who are they? Why do I care? At least have the decency to humor lil’ ol’ me and tell me why you like it. Aside from the fact that you think it’s good. Or even really,really good. I still haven’t gotten anything… Work with me here, would ya? All the hipster slang and kinda-shoulda stylin’ ain’t fer shit if you don’t fuckin’ tell me anything. No matter how fuckin’ rockin’ the fuckers are, and how they could kick [insert popular band name here]’s ass any day of the week. That, at least, is a reference point, but I still can’t hear anything. No matter how much you swear and how many words you contract, I still ain’t learning shit. If it makes you wanna bang yer head against the wall, how is the music any different from my response to reading your review? You’re hurting me, you hack fuck, cut it out!

And that’s just music reviews. There’s more to life than music reviews. Even I know that. But seeing as our culture is immersed up to its ears (which, unless you and I don’t share the same facial structure, is right about on the level with our mouth and nose, the two orifices with which we have the choice of breathing through) in CD releases (not to mention the over-proliferation of reviews that accompany them), music reviews are as good a topic as any. And hopefully, these vocabulary-deficient doofuses start and end their “writing” careers with ignorable CD reviews. Major news coverage is coy enough without their lack of input, and even talk shows and gossip/fashion programs have the decency to be offensively stupid, a far cry from insipid. They at least make me angry because of what they do, not leave me frustrated by what they don’t. Do, that is.

In closing, I’m reminded of a slogan (perhaps one of the tightest, most powerful forms of writing), “Stop the Madness.” I forget the topic, but the words stay with me. I’d like to borrow the slogan for my own purposes. To be fair, what I want to stop is far from madness. Madness, at least, is interesting. To both the one mad and those in contact with him/her. What I want to stop is banality. But that just doesn’t have the same ring to it. And too many people would have to look up the word, or worse yet, go through the rest of their lives either not knowing or using it improperly. Actually, I don’t want to stop it (something about freedom of speech prohibits that, I believe), I simply want to encourage the discerning individual to encourage those of inability to pursue other lines of work. Again, that just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? It’s not that you don’t have the right to write, I just wish you wouldn’t.