Lately I have been thinking about writing a lot. Thinking about writing. But not actually writing. Thinking about my novel. But not once have I dusted off the laptop, opened those files and tapped out even a single word. Not even a letter. Why?
Well, I’ll tell you why. Because during the course of a day I will find every excuse available to NOT write. Why do I do this when my characters and the world I created are always back there, whispering little things to me? I don’t know. It’s a phenomenon, an illness among writers that I need to address. Part of the illness says, “I am not good enough to call myself a writer!” and to prove that I am right, I do not write.
What is a writer, anyway? I guess sometimes I get hung up on the fact that I never majored in creative writing in college. I never even went to college. I never learned how to structure a story, I never learned what makes for a compelling plot, and chances are my grammar sucks.
I have also never been totally interested in what people consider “literature” these days, though I have read my fair share of popular literature. You know, think: Oprah’s Book Club. Books that make you feel like wow, what a deep and pondering soul who wrote this. So smart, so literary. What prose. I enjoy those books to some degree. Those books that underneath the surface reek of a sort of formula that so many of today’s literary works tend to follow. If you’ve read one, you’ve sort of read them all.
Last year I took an online writing class. This is where I got my first taste of the fact that among writers, exists a sort of snobbery about writing. A segregation. In order to be considered a “real” writer, one must master the short story and write literature. I’ve never done either of those things.
Mastering the short story may well be a really damn good idea, would probably help me tackle my fantasy epic in smaller, manageable bites instead of reeling from the vastitude of it all. But as for writing literature, I’m afraid I have no interest in aspiring to such heights. I suppose that as a writer I would fall into the category of Worthless Hacks Who Write Genre Fiction. But that’s what I like to read and write best. If I am ever considered successful as a writer, I will surely prefer the company of said Hacks to the Snobs of the literary sect.
I honestly can’t understand how these writers of literature get so damn snooty about the way they string words together to tell a story compared to the way a genre fiction writer goes about it. Maybe it’s in the content. A literary writer would never allow Harry Potter in all his wizardly glory to step foot between her pages. How trite, how un-literary. How fantastical and imaginary. How, therefore, lacking in real substance. But I’d be willing to bet that these people would find themselves entertained completely, in fact totally sucked in, by the clever wit of Jonathon Stroud, who I daresay could easily hold his own in any literary showdown. He is a literary scholar, who, horrors! CHOSE to write fantasy! How can his writing not be considered literature when it easily persuades readers to believe in a totally fantastical world while simultaneously exploring subjects of universal interest? If there is any one writer on the planet I am most jealous of, it is Jonathon Stroud who just may be the guy who puts fantasy on the literary map.
It is a sad and pathetic intellectual war between these writers who ultimately suffer from the very same sickness; the need to give the people and characters living inside of their heads a voice… and let them tell their stories. It is foul to think that the only “good” writing is “literary” in nature. There is such a thing as badly written literature. And not all genre fiction is just fluff and nonsense. Have these Snobs re-written the meaning of literature?
Here is the definition given by Merriam-Webster:
1archaic : literary culture2: the production of literary work especially as an occupation3 a (1): writings in prose or verse ; especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest (2): an example of such writings <what came out, though rarely literature, was always a roaring good story — People> b: the body of written works produced in a particular language, country, or age c: the body of writings on a particular subject <scientific literature> d: printed matter (as leaflets or circulars) <campaign literature>4: the aggregate of a usually specified type of musical compositions
I don’t see anything in the definition excluding fantastical stories about wizards or imaginary worlds. Notice the specific mention of “ideas of permanent and universal interest.” Tell J.K Rowling, the wealthiest author ever to grace the planet, that her stories are lacking in permanent or universal interest. Tell J.R.R.Tolkien that hobbits are fleeting figments and won’t last a decade. I think not, oh snobby writers! Imagination and the prospect of magic is about as universal and permanent as it gets. Check your history books, people.
Perhaps they are simply jealous that their imaginations have withered, and their childlike wonder for the world around them has morphed into a certain uptight bitterness and a need to prove that their superior eye and mind has been trained to accept only works that they and their colleagues deem worthy of literary greatness? Well, they’re missing out on some fantastic, well-written tales. Some extremely clever storytelling. Some damn good reads. It’s sad, actually, how this kind of partisan schooling takes something magical from young writers and kills it. As someone who never had any proper training in this craft that I so adore, I am finally coming to grips with the fact that my lack of traditional education may actually be to my advantage in the end.
How do I become a writer, then, at this stage of my life, with insignificant formal education on the subject? According to Dorothea Brande, I must write. That’s it. That’s all. Just write. Write enough and often enough, that I can access that genius that is in there somewhere, mingling with my imagination and longing to tell a story. An exercise she requires all would-be writers to do is to wake up and start writing immediately, while still halfway in dreamland. This way, we are already close to accessing that genius, and in writing daily like this, we learn to train that genius to write on command.
We’ll see how it goes. As with mastering any craft, quantity eventually leads to quality. Basically, I gotta write a lot of crap to become a better writer. Thanks for reading a load of mine.