- Books, Literature, and Writing
Are writers arrogant? Yes and No
You frequently see complaints from readers online about materials. Content may be king, but the emperor is wearing very shabby new clothes in many cases. The problem is the writers. Writing styles can be a combination of pretense and arrogance, or honesty and creativity.
The case for Yes
Bias, rhetoric and an absolutely appalling epidemic of the use of almost unreadable terminology really are pretty insufferable. Readers do have legitimate cause for complaint. Some types of writing are bordering on cruelty.
The (obscure reference) to (even more obscure subject description) is very interesting. There’s a certain (use of an untranslated language to express feeling) in my experience of (whatever the subject turns out to be after this obstacle course).
The (jargon) was (buzzword) and absolutely fantastic. I loved the (impossible to find technical reference) and was reminded of (irritating and usually misplaced classical reference).
Thanks, guys. Very helpful. Do drop in again with some more non-information, won’t you? Couldn’t last another second without your inputs.
Online writers often write about specialist subjects. There’s an allowable level of natural terminology which won’t be obscure to interested readers. That said, some writers have taken to “writing down” to their readers.
If you read:
“Easy weasy equalsy wequalsy Emsy wemsy Ceasy weasy squaredsy waredsy”, you’d think Einstein’s Theory of Relativity had gone a bit downmarket, at least.
Far more irritating is the fact that the writer of this useful bit of patronizing crap is actually expressing something in this way to readers, who literally are being treated like absolute idiots. There’s no need to develop the theme of dumbing-down in this case, because the subject isn’t being dumbed down. It’s the writing. The writing is based on the assumption that readers really don’t know a damn thing and don’t deserve to be treated like adults. In a world full of people with academic degrees and other qualifications, that’s just insulting.
Far worse is the fact that extreme simplification of language usage can be a real mess. Some things aren’t simple. Expressing them as if they are simple is simply wrong. Some ideas must be developed or there's no chance of actually expressing them accurately. This "writing down" is more than mere ridiculous arrogance. It’s incredible stupidity.
When the idea of “plain language” was introduced to business writing and law, there was a good reason for it. This language relates to specific practical issues. In creative writing, plain language always has a use as a basic communication tool.
It’s not usually the reader’s fault if they can’t understand what they read. If my readers can’t understand what I’ve written, I’m responsible, not them. I haven’t communicated effectively. To ignore that very basic and very obvious fact is arrogance.
Unfortunately for literature as a whole, being obscure and hard to understand is sometimes fashionable. During the 1970s, verbosity, for some godforsaken reason, became very fashionable. Gigantic fiction books, full of descriptions of furniture and people, abounded. It’s interesting to think people can put so much effort into describing the non-existent, (and deliberately preventing readers from having their own fantastic visualizations) but you can always attribute meaning to such huge amounts of catalog-like materials. These verb-grinding travel brochures were considered high art. Arrogance was its natural bastard child.
If you’ve never had to suffer through a writers festival, endure the stench of locker rooms coming from each tedious bit of overloaded expression and the obvious signs of middle class visionaries in rut, you may idealistically expect writers to be at least vaguely human. You may think they have some standards of behaviour. You might think some ethics were still lurking around, somewhere.
No, of course not.
There are no real restrictions on writers, unless you happen to have a few weapons handy while they’re actually writing. Any human or considerate behaviours should be considered either lucky or at best atypical. Like serial chainsaw murderers having a coffee break. Arrogant writers are like show-off kids. They’ll perform at the slightest excuse, and expect to be appreciated…And God help you if you don’t.
Academic writers will often trot out their bits of specialist knowledge, then scuttle away. Literati, in particular, will insist on their versions of any subject. Nobody else could possibly know anything. Only to them and their wilting and surprisingly brittle IQs has been given this special understanding of the subject. This is arrogance incarnate, and the verdict is guilty on all charges.
The case for No
Despite the massive weight of the Yes case, some writers are innocent of arrogance. Probably not intentionally, but they are. There is a little-understood class of writers who are actually honest. They don’t write epics of tired affairs, or furniture showroom catalogs. They are invariably unfashionable. They don’t see why writing the same rubbish as the arrogant writers churn out needs doing. They also don’t see why they should be bored out of their minds and souls by writing that material.
The only working theory for even the existence of these writers is that unlike the arrogant species, they can also read. Many professional writers consider their own writing to be a sort of vaccination against producing garbage, simply because they have to read it themselves and antihistamines are so expensive. Breaking out in a rash while reading your own material can be a bit irritating, too.
Much as they would like to be admired for their writing, they’re all too aware of what they write. Many of them even understand what they’re writing about. That’s an instant disqualification from any hope of becoming arrogant about it.
The nearest these poor lost writers can come to arrogance is admitting they wrote their own work. If accused of originality, they have to admit it. If someone says they’re interesting, they’re stuck with it. They start writing with the strange view that they don’t want to be bored to death and don’t see why readers should be, either. It’s a very odd mindset.
They can’t, however, pretend to admire themselves for their writing. There’s too much sweat involved in honest writing to applaud yourself for doing it. They can’t claim omniscience, because they know how much work they had to put in to the subject. They even know how much or how little they know about their subjects.
They do, however, commit endless crimes against the arrogant style of writing, and many of them do it deliberately, although some seem to do it genetically. They try to make subjects interesting. They try to create new storylines. They attempt to include interesting stories or details. They’re unforgivably factual, if allowed anywhere near an academic subject. There have even been rumours of restraining orders related to textbooks considered to be either interesting or factual.
The writing profession is in fact in the midst of some serious dilemmas-
Should writing talent be an indictable offense, or simply continue to be classified as cultural treason?
Should arrogant writing be an instant qualification for writing education policy?
Should publishers learn to not only read, but understand, books and then move up to shopping lists, graffiti and post-it notes?
Should academic writing require levels of actual interest, or continue to be a viable alternative to alcoholism in colleges?
Will the English language finally finish that escape tunnel it seems to be digging?
There’s one other issue that needs to be mentioned:
Should readers receive financial compensation, after all these thousands of years?
Just thought it should finally get a hearing.
Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows are perhaps two of the least arrogant, most unpretentious books ever written. If you've never before experienced honest writing, check them out. You really can taste the difference.