What is woo-woo? I know you didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway. Woo-woo is a statement or assertion based on supernatural or pseudo-scientific beliefs. Renowned skeptic, Michael Shermer, describes the words of Deepak Chopra as woo-woo. And if you watch their debates you can see why. However, I don’t think it has been applied to opinions on writing. But having read Jonathan Franzen’s 10 rules for novelists, I was inspired to offer an additional meaning for your consideration. Def: 1. (slang) noun. Nonsensical writing advice, presented as objective truth, based on nothing more substantial than personal beliefs, emotions, and an overall need to feel special and clever. Too much wine and an overblown ego can dramatically increase the volume of woo-woo produced. Def: 2 (slang) verb. When a writer is deliberately vague to appear intelligent and insightful. As with definition #1 wine and ego are common factors.
There you have it. Writer’s woo-woo as defined by yours truly. You may or may not agree, but that’s fine. I’m often wrong. You’ll need to be the judge. So without further ado, I give you (drum roll) writer’s woo-woo as represented by Jonathan Franzen.
1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
And we kick it off with a healthy dose of woo-woo. This is meant to sound as if he has some mystical bond with the reader; some insight beyond the understanding of mere mortals. It screams, I’m wise! I’m clever! I possess a level of comprehension that surpasses the reach of the common rabble. To which I say: whatever, dude.
2. Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
This particular woo-woo is meant to give you the impression that a “real” writer writes for the sheer joy of the experience with no regard for financial considerations. While I agree that you should write what you love, and the expectation of vast riches when becoming and author is ill-advised, there is nothing wrong with paying the bills. You are not a sell-out because you make money. And you are not an artist because you don’t.
3. Never use the word then as a conjunction—we have and for this purpose. Substituting then is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many ands on the page.
I read this woo-woo, then I laughed. Use the word that fits. There is no “right” way. Prose is not an immovable obelisk. It’s fluid. If “then” fits, use it.
4. Write in third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
Ah, yes. I remember this from creative writing class. The absolutes and objective facts the instructor pretended to know and would spout off as gospel. It’s pure BS. That said, I refer you to my previous response. There is no “right” way. Craft your story however you want.
5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
Not sure what he’s driving at with this woo-woo. Because information is freely available, it’s worthless? Or because information is available to the common clods, research is meaningless? Ugh!
6. The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than The Metamorphosis.
This is woo-woo of the highest order. I’m beginning to think he fancies himself the Deepak Chopra of literature. Admittedly, I haven’t read The Metamorphosis. But I know that saying “Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than The Metamorphosis” as if it’s an objective fact is ludicrous. For me, The Lord of the Rings is the greatest fantasy trilogy of all time. Let me repeat that. For me, The Lord of the Rings is the greatest fantasy trilogy of all time.
7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.
This woo-woo is vague and meant to seem wise and introspective. Sounds to me like something you would read in a fortune cookie. I did look it up to be sure. It’s his own quote, presumably from one of his books. I guess he really liked it.
8. It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
And from where does your doubt arise? This woo-woo is simply an injection of bias without evidence to support his assertion. I’m beginning to think dude should lay off the wine when he writes on his blog.
9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
More woo-woo straight from the mouth of a high school creative writing teacher. Again, use words that fit.
10. You have to love before you can be relentless.
And ending with mega woo-woo! He went full Deepak with this one.
My advice? I have none to give other than read books that you enjoy. Learn from the authors who write them. And do your best to improve your skills. There isn’t a right way. In the end it’s about finding your way, your voice, and your story.