i have been hitting the library a lot since i got back to lawrence a few weeks ago. i’m so happy to have access to big stacks of books again, without having to spend any money on them. i love the lawrence library & i love that it’s only a few blocks away from my house.
i’ve been reading a lot of old issues of “writer’s digest”. there is a lot to recommend about “writer’s digest,” but i am especially amused by their writing advice column. readers send in questions, & a staff member answers them. it’s a lot of stuff like, “how many query letters should i have circulating around to agents at any given times?” or, “an editor gave me a lot of style edits even though i used the chicago manual of style. can i ignore him?” but one of my recent favorites was, “which is correct: ’eminent’ or ‘imminent’? i have seen this word spelled both ways.”
that question kind of blew my mind. was the person who submitted it unable to tell that those are two completely different words with two completely different meanings? it’s called “context clues,” people. “eminent” means “distinguished,” & “imminent” means “precipitously about to occur”. a well-known conference speaker may be “eminent”. a bus barreling down on you in the crosswalk can be said to be “imminent”. i actually laughed out loud at that question…which, granted, is not very charitable. but it definitely made me feel a lot better about my chances of maybe someday getting my writing published somewhere. i at least have a basic grasp on vocabulary.
this is why the number one piece of writing advice that people mete out to aspiring writers is read, read, & then read a little bit more. a new word that seems confusing the first time you see it starts to make sense when you see it in more contexts. i am amazed by writers who do not read…& not in a good way. it’s usually pretty easy to tell which writers don’t read much because their writing is riddled with cliches, imprecise language, & passive voice. the more a person reads, the more they start to become aware of these problems in what they are reading, & they are more likely to take the initiative to avoid it in their own writing.
this is the main thing that has turned me off of zines in the last several years. when i was a teenager, i scarfed up zines like candy. i didn’t love them all equally, & i was able to recognize the obvious duds for what they were, but i cared a lot more about the content than the style. because i was drawn to zines for the element of inter-personal connection & sharing. i was a big proponent of the whole “everyone has a story worth telling” perspective.
things have changed a lot as i’ve gotten older. when i was eighteen years old, i enrolled in creative writing school & i started to pay attention to elements of craft & style a lot more. my own zine writing improved tremendously. i’m nothing but thankful that the zines i wrote as a teenager have mostly disappeared into the ether & that not that many of my current zine friends have ever seen them, because–trust me. they were bad. there were some amazing zines being written back then, but i was not a contributing member of that scene. i made zines by sitting in front of the family computer (one of those elderly monstrosities with the blinking green cursor) & just writing whatever popped into my head. i interviewed local go-nowhere high school rock bands, asking ridiculous personal questions that couldn’t possibly be of any interest to anyone who didn’t listen to the bands (& no one did aside from me & maybe thirty other kids in my town). i told goofy stories about my siblings & wrote hard-hitting exposes on such pressing societal issues as the gendered nature of children’s toys. did you know that maybe sometimes girls might like to play with trucks? DID YOU? you heard it here first, folks!
it’s no use being embarrassed by any of this, because come on. i was fifteen years old. there are some fifteen-year-olds that have made some unaccountably awesome zines, but they’re definitely the exception. i was the rule.
by the time i was twenty & living in portland, my politics had become somewhat more sophisticated (did you know that hard-hitting exposes on how little girls might like to play with trucks reify gender codes that portray female-gendered toys as oppressive? DID YOU?), & i cared more about the craft of my writing. i also wrote a lot more in ways that never saw the light of the day, which was very important. with my teenage zines, anything i committed to paper found its way into my zines. as a young adult, i gave myself more practice before writing for publication. those zines were very well-received & have contributed to my zine “legacy” (such as it is), but i don’t pretend that they represent me now, as a writer or a political thinker.
i “quit” zines in 2003 & started my zine distro, by which point i had become a lot more discriminating in my tastes. i had started to feel like it was a lot more okay to just not like a certain zine, which was a big change from being fifteen & feeling honor-bound to celebrate every zine because someone was showing the gumption to commit their words to paper. when my fellow volunteers at the zine library would say, “everyone has a story to share! anyone can make a zine!” i always added, “but most people shouldn’t.” i feel like i’m actually less dismissive now than i was then–it’s pretty much true that anyone can make a zine, & i can just skip the ones that suck, according to my particular tastes. i have realized over the years that pretty much any zine will find some kind of audience, however small or incapable of developing good taste. & if people are mainly coming to zines for that sense of inter-personal connection & sharing that attracted me when i was younger…well, who cares if their zines are boring & poorly-written, full of cliches & passive voice & imprecise language? & misspellings, grammatical errors, & hubris? who’s it hurting?