Feb
19
2015

The Blade of Grass Fallacy

A Guest Post by Evan Braun

In any career or industry—even the largest industry—once you work your way to a certain level of specialization, you’re going to realize that you’re operating in a very small pond. There are a lot of writers in the world. Thousands. Tens of thousands. Once you narrow that down to speculative fiction, and then further narrow it down to science fiction, and then further narrow it down to truly hard science fiction, there may only be a couple dozen.

And you can rest assured that they all know each other.

When I started my professional writing endeavours, I had a very different view. I saw the broad spectrum of writers and books available and imagined the industry like a sprawling yard covered with uncountable unique blades of grass.

A couple of years ago, I had a long conversation with a friend of mine who’s an accomplished scientist. What were we talking about? Grass. Sounds weird, but it’s the sort of thing that comes up at two o’clock on a Saturday morning when you’re polishing off your seventh beer. Anyway, my friend explained that blades of grass may look like individual plants, but they’re not. In fact, a blade of grass is no more an individual plant than a leaf on a tree.

Ever notice how wide patches of grass seem to get extra green all at the same time, or conversely all turn brown? It might be a result of the neighbourhood dog taking a whiz on your yard, but there’s a more likely explanation: all the blades of grass in that patch are the extremities of a single plant.

Whoa. Mind blown. How did I not know this before?

So it turns out that your front yard doesn’t have tens of millions of grass plants. Rather, it might only have a few dozen.

By now, you can probably see how the grass metaphor ties in to the point I’m trying to make. As a writer, my yard isn’t as diverse as I might think it is, and neither is my specialized field in the larger writing industry (or any industry). Why is this important? Because if I kill off a couple of big patches of grass in the middle of my yard, the yard is going to look terrible, even if I have a couple of extra lush areas elsewhere. A good yard is a uniform yard. Ideally, a lushly uniform yard.

The writerly equivalent of killing off a couple of big patches of grass is burning bridges in one’s professional circle. You don’t have to burn very many before you earn a bad reputation. Because of that, it’s really important to be nice to everyone you meet—I mean everyone, even the people you don’t like. Especially those people.

Have you ever gotten a bad review or failed to make a great impression on an agent? You might want to think twice about blasting the internet with disparaging remarks. Sure, you may have valid disagreements with other professionals. I speak from experience. As a freelance editor myself, I can attest to the fact that almost any dispute can be resolved cleanly. After all, disagreements are inevitable; the key is handling them with grace and aplomb. Chances are that any given reviewer or agent has invisible ties to all kinds of other industry professionals you don’t want to alienate. Maybe that agent works closely with a publisher you’d like to work with.

So excuse me while I grab my bag of fertilizer and spend some much-needed time in the backyard. But now that I’ve thoroughly run this metaphor into the ground, I better sign off.

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Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored two novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories in Canada’s 2012 Word Awards. He has also released a sequel, The City of Darkness (2013), with the third and final entry in the series due later this year. Braun is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.

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