“Real” writers (and critics) know a lot of things, but one thing they know is genre. And whatever genre you’re writing—for the record—it is probably stupid.
Last post, I made a joke about what makes us “real writers,” which is a notion that has cracked me up for at least fifteen years. Writing, for some weird reason, is one of the few professions that seems to always carry around this crushing existential crisis of whether or not we are REAL.
Like Schrodinger’s writers. If you put a writer in a box, are they simultaneously a freaking GENIUS and a talentless-hack-poseur?
I might think this “real writer” stuff is funny…but at the same time I also struggle with it.
Real writers always seem to be whatever I am not. They also DO whatever I don’t do and write whatever I don’t.
Today, we’ll pick on genre.
Your Genre is Stupid
Do you happen to write those silly little romance novels? Maybe those goofy cozy mysteries? Heck, I can read one of those in about three hours. Probably only took that long to write. Dragons, smut, and aliens. What DUMB genres.
Though NOT NEARLY as dumb as those LOOONG books.
Like Ken Follett and that Pillars of the Earth. Just how padded was that thing? Did he really feel the need to use every word in the English language, and then some? Apparently he did since there’s a WHOLE series.
Space books? Dumb. Sexy books. Dumb. Westerns? Obviously dumb. Self-help? Why would I waste time on just how dumb those are.
All right, now that I have probably either confused or ticked off everyone reading this, I DO have a point.
How many of us, deep down, BELIEVE THIS? This crushing doubt is what keeps us from starting, finishing, publishing, marketing, or even admitting we are a writer aloud and to other people. Deep down, we believe whatever genre we write is dumb, despite any or all evidence to the contrary.
Whatever genre we write is either useless fluff, boring pontification, derivative, whatever, *insult nonsense here*.
Genre envy happens to me pretty much every time I read a good book, watch a great series, or go to a writing conference.
Say I am at a conference. I meet the romance authors who can write a book-a-month. They’re getting movie deals, and their books are translated into 27 languages and I think, “Now THAT is a real writer. I should write faster.”
Of course, then I meet the next author who writes deep, thoughtful, provocative novels so long that a print copy is heavy enough to take out a burglar. And I think, “Now THAT is a real writer.”
So, I go to the next session where there is a spitfire teaching me how to balance life, love, kids, cooking, working out, pets, and who tells me that mastering EXCEL is the secret to joy. And I think…Dear God please kill me. EXCEL? And THEN I think, “THAT is a real writer.”
I watch Netflix and there’s something light and fun. I should write more like THAT. Then I watch The Last Kingdom. No, I should write more like THAT. Those are REAL stories.
Want to know the funny part? I am actually right on ALL counts.
Maybe I’m the only one who does this so I am happy blogging to myself. But, I admit I struggle with genre envy. Too often, it seems the only REAL stories are whatever ones are not like mine.
Even down to writing all these blogs. I get so much enjoyment out of helping y’all laugh at a very intimidating world, and then making that world just a little less scary.
Word is, I’m even pretty good at teaching, encouraging and inspiring, but I’ve honestly held back on writing more TEACHING BOOKS because—SIGHS—then I wouldn’t be a REAL writer because we all know….
Those who can do, and those who can’t TEACH.
Which was a line from a George Bernard Shaw play that is still used to disparage educators despite being utterly flawed. Some of our greatest doers were also our greatest teachers. Ever heard of EINSTEIN? Apparently, my subconscious thinks he’s a “fluke” (along with Oppenheimer, Feynman, J.K. Rowling, and J.R.R. Tolkien).
***For the record, I’ve recently realized how dumb that is and just…yep.
Consider the Source
Maybe y’all are not like me and you are super confident that what you write is exactly what the world wants and needs (please send tips). I know when I was new, when I decided to quit working in Corporate America, I believed my writing WAS EXACTLY what the world had been waiting on.
This was before I found out the world around me had an opinion.
Everyone is a CRITIC.
If you haven’t seen this, take the three minutes for the good
As I mentioned, when I said I was going to become a writer, my grandparents thought I was
joining a cult insane. Despite literally WALLS of books through their ENTIRE HOUSE, they believed I was doomed to poverty and foraging in dumpsters for food.
***Joke was on them, Taco Bell had a .99 menu…and I only foraged in dumpsters for furniture and the occasional outfit. I LOVED it when the guy next door fought with whatever girlfriend, because he always threw away any clothes left in his place on actual garbage day…and yes I am a bad person but I needed new tops more than the landfills did.
Anyway, my grandparents thought fiction was stupid. This came from a grandfather who literally bought and read every single Louis L’Amor book. If it was in space, SIGN HIM UP! My grandmother never met a Tony Hillerman or a Dick Francis she didn’t PREORDER.
Since I was reared by my grandparents who almost always had a book in hand, imagine my shock when they told me it wasn’t a REAL job, and that no matter what genre I wrote, it was
stupid going to land me in the poor house.
One friend told me to write romance, another told me that mind candy was useless and I needed to put my intellect to good use with some solid NONFICTION.
I felt like that little bird in “Are You My Mother?” I’d hatched without one mommy genre I truly LOVED—because I’d read all of them—and so I flitted around asking “Are You My Genre?”
Still struggle with that.
Which Genre is WORTH Writing?
Let’s go back to all you guys I insulted earlier. I’m sure I didn’t say anything you haven’t heard. Romance authors? Y’all just AMAZE me. I cannot write romance. And we all hear the Hallmark jokes and laugh (while those writers who can write Hallmark stories are laughing all the way to the BANK).
And it isn’t just money for me. I genuinely wish I had the skill to weave a world where love wins and do that over and over and over.
That is not a gift, it is a SUPER POWER. The world NEEDS you. Maybe you will never win a Pulitzer, but who cares? Y’all make the world a brighter, prettier, sexier, livelier place. We need books that remind us about love, or being young, the thrill of a new relationship, or even the deep resonance of love that endures.
For the writers out there churning out space alien books or westerns, or alien westerns? Same thing. Not ALL writing needs to be heavy because LIFE is heavy and sometimes, we just need a break. We need to remember good guys win, love triumphs in the end, that broken people can heal.
We are SO overloaded, books help us remember what it’s like to be kids again. To believe in magic and dragons and spaceships or magical dragons with spaceships.
For the literary folk, y’all provide ways for us to question our world, look at life in a new way, from another point of view. What y’all do is critical as well.
What Genre Should YOU Write?
THAT is a question only you can answer. Did I mention an incredible book called Dear Writer, You Need to Quit?
I’ve been blogging HERE for almost 15 years, and I work really hard to give you guys a lot of options because writing is not One-Size-Fits-All. People are all different and we have different strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, we CHANGE. It is called GROWTH.
Why do I mention this? Because we are now Digital Age Authors which is
hell awesome. It changes ALL the time. If you’re really good at one type of writing and you are happy and achieving YOUR goals? Keep at it. Maybe Amish Erotica hasn’t taken off, but the world might not yet be ready for Fifty Shades of Hay.
Conversely, the WONDERFUL (and maddening) part of our profession is we have to learn to reinvent and pivot. If you’ve been writing one genre and now you’d rather mainline cookie dough than write any more YA Urban Fantasy? Do something different! Maybe it will fail, but maybe it’ll work.
Or MAYBE it will just be the nudge you need to remember why you loved your genre of choice.
Which Books SELL the BEST?
We’ve spent all this time talking about genre and I hope you are feeling a bit better. Yes, the same world that spends every extra minute enjoying what creative people create is the same world that’ll tell you this isn’t a real job and that whatever you are doing is stupid.
The trick is not believing it. Because I am going to let y’all in on a secret. After all this, the books that sell the best are *dramatic drum roll*…
Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Western writer Louis L’Amor “wrote 100 novels, over 250 short stories, and (as of 2010) sold more than 320 million copies of his work.” Does this, however, make him any more or less of a REAL WRITER than Emily Bronte, J.D. Salinger, Oscar Wilde, and others who only had ONE BIG BOOK?
There are plenty of writers who’s works became classics, sold a bazillion copies, were made into award-winning movies, but they were essentially what the world calls one-hit-wonders, which I have feelings on that, too.
***Check out Self-Sabotage: I Don’t Deserve Success.
Regardless of what you write, it doesn’t matter so long as you finish. There have been a ton of “crappy” internationally best-selling FINISHED novels, but I have yet to encounter the runaway success of a half-finished PERFECT novel.
So give yourselves permission to love what you write, because if you fall in love with it, we can feel that. And odds are much better we’ll fall in love with it too.
What are Your Thoughts?
So y’all know, I reward initiative. Are you someone who keeps changing genre? Do you have genre envy? I SO love George R.R. Martin complexity, but it would break my brain trying to write it. Is it hard to believe what you write matters? Come on! Spill! I can’t be the ONLY one.
To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat.
If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win?
The unvarnished truth from yours truly (and maybe even time with an agent).
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). People with superlative writing, I (with your permission) have been known to pass you onto an agent.
I actually have landed agents for people who’ve won this contest. Agents like me because I make their lives easier.
Anyway, I look forward to reading your comments and your writing!