Thursday, January 14, 2010

Too Much Pagan Writing is Too Bland

I wish Pagan writers would stop giving advice and writing bland how-to articles.

A lot of what makes Pagan magazine publishing is its bias towards advice-giving. That and poor graphic design, in some cases.

Look at Circle magazine, for example. Circle reminds me too much of the bland publications of cookie-cutter financial advice that mutual-fund companies, credit unions, etc. send out.

I feel as though I have read almost everything in it before. "How to use your cauldron." "The Celtic legend of Whatever."

I tend to skim the "Passages" section and the "Lady Liberty League Report," and then it goes on the shelf.

Its graphic design, unfortunately, reflects its early 1980s incarnation as a tabloid newspaper.  Boring. When they shrank the size to 8 x 10, it did not get the makeover it desperately needed.

Of course, there is a rule in commercial magazine publishing that after two years every topic is new again.

But what is missing is personality. The Cauldron, which is still more in the "zine" class (originally it was typed and reproduced by mimeograph on the cheapest paper) shows the personality of its editor, Mike Howard.

American Pagan writers seem too afraid of being "personal." Instead, they churn out bland how-to stuff.

When I edited some books for Llewellyn in the 1990s, "too personal" was the kiss of death—the term they used when they wanted to reject a piece of writing. They probably would have called the The Confessions of Aleister Crowley "too personal."

The new Witches & Pagans at least has columnists. I turn to Kenaz Finan or Judy Harrow or R.J. Stewart before tackling the main features. I want stories and the "too personal" more than I want the how-to stuff. Sometimes I even get it.

But their Web site needs updating. Thanks to the Web, publishing a magazine is now twice as much work as before.

I thought Thorn was cool, so I subscribed and promoted it, only to see it go "online only," which most likely is the kiss of (slow) death.

The nascent Pagan Newswire Collective that Jason Pitzl-Waters is organizing has a worthwhile purpose: to make it easier for Pagans to define Paganism in the media marketplace. (Jason's own blogging is newsy, which makes it a daily read.)

Where the PNC will find outlets I am not yet sure. All journalism is in turmoil right now, and journalism about religion even more so—even though so many news stories have unexplored or unexplained religious dimensions.

Meanwhile, I go on looking for good writing that happens to be Pagan, rather than "Pagan writing."

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Anonymous Ed H said...

Great Blog, certainly very true in too many cases.

11:56 PM  
OpenID thehouseofvines said...

Gods, I am so with you on that.

Of course, that brings up the question: what, in your opinion at least, constitutes good writing, pagan or otherwise?

12:51 AM  
Blogger Apuleius Platonicus said...

Doesn't "too personal" really mean that the author's life is, at least as described, simply boring.

Uncle Al's life was not boring (and then some), and, besides, once a person becomes famous (or, even better, infamous) everyone is interested even in the boring stuff.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Peg A said...

Pagan publishing has been dying for some time now. It's good that people are trying to breathe some life into it but they obviously can't sustain it. It's expensive and there's not a lot of support for it, but people bemoan its loss all the same.

This lack of support/bemoaning loss dichotomy is not unlike the frequent comments you hear from pagans who wish there was a smart, serious documentary film on the pagan community but aren't willing to help fund its production.

I think bland writing is only one aspect of creative expression in the pagan community, which, it seems to me, is generally mediocre, with only a few bright spots of talent and originality that emerge once in a while. And when these bright stars shine, well, we are happy. But unfortunately too much of what gets attention is derivative dreck.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Meical said...

Maybe some of the less bland and boring stuff is more to be heard via podcast now, than read via blog or 'zine.

Is this bland and boring?

And if it is, it won't hurt my feelings if you say so, here or anywhere else; criticism only helps me to improve. :)

9:09 AM  
Blogger Primigenia said...

These are a selection of random thoughts on the topic. Sorry it isn't more coherent.

It seems that Pagan magazines have tended towards making their magazines more like fashion magazines. I've not liked the format since I became a Pagan back in '84. I soooo wanted to subscribe to SageWoman, but it was sooo bland and boring and cookie cutter. Sometimes Green Egg hit the mark and I always liked Oberon's editorials.

What magazines should they model themselves after? The Economist? I guess what I'm suggesting is that instead of bemoaning the format, we try to help invent a better one. I for one, wish I could afford the Pomegranate. Now that's a magazine worth the paper it's printed on.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Cosette said...

I think the blandness in so much Pagan writing comes largely from a desire to be inoffensive. We end up playing it safe. There's the business aspect too. Introductory material sells well, so I'm told.

I'm actually less interested in personal stories and would like to see more scholarship or just deeper analysis. Many Pagan writers are superficial in their explorations of myth and ritual.

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Riane said...

I'll be contacting you about a Pagan author (Andrea Jones) who you might be interested in reading. She wrote a book called Hook & Jill... not a "how-to" Pagan book, but very interesting!

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

And it sure doesn't help that more than once, upon submitting an article, I've gotten the editorial response of: "This is great, but could you make it more a top ten tips list? Our readers love those!" Blah!

9:47 PM  

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