Affirming the Consequent…
I’m a big ol’ podcast junkie. Ever since I bought an iPhone, I’ve been listening pretty much exclusively to podcasts. My public radio listening has plummeted.
Writing Excuses is one of my faves. I don’t always agree with the opinions offered on the show. But even when I disagree with the advice, I find it valuable to tune in. If nothing else, this weekly, fifteen minute podcast provides me with insights into how mainstream (make that Establishment) science fiction and fantasy authors think.
One of the recent episodes (“Fake it Till You Make It”), discussed the whole notion of conveying a professional appearance and “acting like a pro”, even before one has become an established pro. Honestly, I found it a mixed bag. The authors discussed the importance of dressing professionally…which I found a bit tedious. Nick Mamatas openly mocks the idea of dressing business casual for conventions. Alan Moore looks like Gandalf in a punk rock musical version of The Lord of the Rings. Caitlin Kiernan rocks an avant-garde look reminiscent of Laurie Anderson. There seem to be so many counter-examples to offer against the “dress like a pro” advice that it doesn’t seem to be very strong advice at all. I mean, I get the whole “don’t cosplay” thing…but it’s been years since I’ve done anything like cosplay. So…no big revelation there.
On the other hand, this episode included a fascinating discussion of something I’ve never heard talked about before: the logical fallacy of “affirming the consequent”. Now, I actually did take a class in formal logic in college. So, I’m sure I ran into this fallacy at some point. But I hadn’t remembered it.
Anyway, the fallacy goes something like this:
Neil Gaiman has a gazillion Twitter followers and sells really well.
Therefore if I obtain a gazillion Twitter followers, I too will sell really well.
When one points out the fallacy it looks patently absurd, and yet so many authors seem driven by this (literally) irrational belief. They mistake a consequence of success for a cause of success.
One of the authors on the show went on to discuss another permutation of this fallacy, “collecting famous friends”.
Neil Gaiman is friends with authors X, Y, and Z and they all have stellar careers.
Therefore, if I become friends with Neil Gaiman then I, too, will have a stellar career.
(If Gaiman doesn’t work for you, insert Brian Keene or Charlaine Harris or any other writer who symbolizes Ultimate Success in your field).
Ay, ay, ay, I’ve seen this particular logical error happen over and over (often under the guise of “networking”). I mean, sure, there’s something to be said for networking. But I think it’s important to have realistic expectations of what networking can achieve. All the networking in the world isn’t going to put a good story on the page. When readers open a book, they don’t care how many famous friends I have (or don’t have). They only care if I make them turn pages to see what happens next.
And to do that, one needs to put his or her hiney in the chair and write.