I had only taken a couple of creative writing classes as electives when I was an undergrad. In one class, the professor warned everyone not to write about spaceships in any of our assignments because the department head was going to read all of our stories. And he (the department head) hated spaceships. The professor didn’t like dogs–so writing about dogs was out, too.
I remember these restrictions time and time again whenever anyone remarks that they cannot read a book because it contains topics that they cannot stomach. Everyone has pet peeves and blocks. I haven’t yet discovered my own–at the moment, I still believe that a writer can write well about difficult and unappealing subjects. The reasons why I dislike certain books are style and craft, not the topic. It could be that everything about a book is great–except for the fact that an author’s stylistic choices on word and syntax leave me wanting to poke my eyes out with a pencil. Other times, the problem is the craft and world building. For example–I dislike many books which contain time traveling and/or scientists, not because there’s time traveling and scientists in the book, but because the authors fails to make either of these two elements seem plausible even within the constraints of the story.
With the notion that a good story primarily relies on being told well and not on the subject matter, it is a natural extension to say that one genre is not better or worse than another genre. So I usually get annoyed when someone puts down an entire genre–even if it’s a genre I don’t read–as crap.
I was pretty pissed this morning when I read this comment:
I write romance, regency as a sub-genre, sometimes contemporary. I couldn’t, wouldn’t ever dream of writing anything that smacks of literary right now because I know I’m not good enough, and truthfully I don’t have the energy.
The comment implies that the author doesn’t have enough energy to hone her writing for the literary genre which is assumed to be “good”. It’s implied that at the moment, she’s too lazy to put any work into her word-smithing and that the half-assed job she’s going to do might as well just end up in the romance genre which has historically been derided as trash. Or, more likely, she’s just giving an excuse to write a romance because what “serious” writer wouldn’t write literary fiction?
I wish people would stop following the critics’ version of the serious writer. A serious writer takes his or her writing craft seriously, not because there happens to be some literary motifs in the story.
There is writing for fun and then there is writing for publication. I don’t think that one reason for writing is inherently better than the other–just as there’s nothing wrong with skiing as a hobby or skiing at the Olympics. Heck, I usually just write for fun and don’t worry if the piece I’m working on is internally consistent or not–if I’m not planning on submitting it anywhere. But if you’re going for publication, there’s no halfway shuffling allowed, even if you’re writing a romance, a hard-boiled dectective mystery, or a sci-fi thriller about Captain Fluffy and his sentient spaceship. Subject matter is mostly a secondary concern; if your storytelling is gold, people will notice.
Because if you don’t put in any effort to write well, who is going to want to publish your story, let alone read it?
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Addendum: Someone else has the same idea. The Olympics must be saturating everyone’s brains–
But when it comes to writing, the stakes have to be high. For your characters, and for yourself as a writer. You’re always trying to achieve that next step up on the figurative podium, whether it’s your first sale, your first award, or your first best seller. So commit to the big ideas, and throw your heart into them.