I have a bachelor’s degree in writing. Naturally, my professors taught me a lot of really useful things – like what a semicolon is, what it does, and why you shouldn’t leave it alone with small animals – but they also taught me some things that really aren’t true.
Genre = Cheap Fiction
The most persistent and infuriating lie of academia is the superiority of “literary” fiction. What makes this belief so insidious is that the definition of “literary” fiction shifts with the teller. Most academic writing teachers poo-poo any fiction they can stuff under a genre label. Is it romance? Then it can’t be literary? Action? Nah, not acceptable. Science fiction and fantasy? Perish the thought!
Under these guidelines, literary fiction boils down to a very narrow (and often dull) collection of technically excellent work that appeals to an equally narrow field of highly-knowledgeable experts. Everyone outside of that set is seen as a lesser reader with lesser taste in lesser books, and that’s just not true.
Plenty of literary fiction is also genre fiction, and there’s also a long, storied history of popular fiction only becoming “literary” after the death of the author. Shakespeare was popular fiction, and practically everything he wrote is genre work. Alexandre Dumas’ stories are action/adventure/suspense. Jane Austen is so obviously romance even literary snobs can’t deny it.
The point is: a great story is a great story. Don’t let anyone tell you your story is substandard because it has zombies, dragons, or a love triangle.
You Have to Know What You’re Doing Before You Start
I accept and acknowledge as a writer for a writing advice blog that this may sound hypocritical, but you really don’t have to know exactly what you’re doing before you start. This applies to both writing and general and the plotter approach to novel writing.
Let’s start with plotting. Plotting everything in advance is a legitimate and affective way to write. A lot of people feel more secure as they sit down to type when they have a roadmap. However, you don’t actually need one to get started. There are a thousand and one project ideas lingering like limbless phantoms in my hard drive I never finished because I didn’t know the ending, the middle, or who the villain ought to be. I had a start, and I could’ve started, but I didn’t. I’m not sure if this means I’m secretly a plotter with one leg in the pantser approach (there’s a mental image for you), but I know it’s become a form of procrastination, and I suspect I’m not the only one waiting for a book to be completed before I actually write it.
If you want to write, you should. Great writers never stop learning, and that’s true, but we don’t stop often enough to say the opposite. You don’t need to read a specific number of novels, self-help books, or blog posts like this to win your newbie writer’s badge. Write as you read. Compose one scene at a time, or assemble a narrative through a collection of notes. You can start right now. Seriously. Off you scoot. Go do a thing. You don’t need permission.
Have you dealt with any of these issues? What lessons have you learned that you were better off without? Did you pick up lessons you initially hated but have learned to – grudgingly – love?