October 8th, 2008


Why the Black Death was not the bubonic plague.

So it turns out that some people have been slightly confused by my insistence that the Black Death was not the bubonic plague. I can understand the confusion. This isn't a topic that most people spend a lot of time or energy thinking about. In fact, it's a topic that most people put a lot of energy into not thinking about. And, perhaps as a consequence, it's a topic that I can talk about for hours, all while giggling gleefully and waving my hands about over my head.

If you wonder why I don't think the Black Death was the source of the bubonic plague, I recommend checking out a book called The Return of the Black Death: the World's Greatest Serial Killer, by Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan. It's a gripping scientific and archeological case for questioning the origins of the greatest plague Europe has ever known.

Of course, it's possible that you don't really want to spend that much time reading about disease. I can understand that. Or maybe you just don't want to wait for the book to get to you. I can understand that, too. And so, in the grand tradition of Schoolhouse Rock, I have written a lovely song to teach you all about the Black Death.

You can thank me later.

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Thoughts on Writing #11: Suffer For Your Art.

Hello, and welcome to number eleven in my ongoing series of essays on the art and craft of writing. All the essays in this series are based on my fifty thoughts on writing, all of which were composed in one hot, caffeine-fueled session. That may explain why the metaphors are occasionally so bizarre. This week's essay is a little different, because it depends rather heavily on having read essay number ten, which was on the topic of validation. If you've been skipping in and out of the series (totally understandable), please take a moment to go back and skim number ten before proceeding. It's okay. I can wait.

Back yet? All right, excellent. Here's our thought for the day:

Thoughts on Writing #11: Suffer For Your Art.

This is continuing to touch on the topic of validation, which, as we all know, really doesn't like to be touched. More importantly, it doesn't like to be disputed, and that's what we're about today. Where is the line between seeking validation and refusing to grow? How do we deal with the human desire to hear nice things, and the author's need for critique? It's hard, and that's why our thought for the day is:

Look: if you just want validation and sugar and sweetness, that's okay. But you need to admit it to yourself, and you need to admit that you don't actually want to sell anything. Thanks to the Internet, you can have a wide audience by opening a website, and that can be wonderful and fulfilling, and you won't ever have to listen to a single harsh word. There is nothing wrong with that. I post a lot of stuff online that I don't necessarily feel like being critiqued on. Those pieces say 'be gentle,' and their safe word is 'no.' If what you want is to improve as a writer, however, and if you're looking to publish someday, change 'be gentle' to 'bring it on,' and get ready to suffer for your art.

As a writer, you're going to hear a lot of things about validation. Some of those things will be good. Some of those things will be bad. None of those things will change the fact that, as human creatures, we will occasionally require positive feedback to encourage and motivate us, and to keep us moving forward. So when is it okay to go fishing for approval? What makes validation a good thing, and not a handicap?

Let's begin.

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