8.22.2010

A Writer's Identity Crisis

When I got to college, I wanted to major in English, Journalism, Film, Political Science, Psychology, Astronomy, Physical Therapy, and even Nursing.

The moral of the story: I hate limiting myself.

Paradoxically, I haven't always enjoyed a lot of variety in my personal tastes. Throughout my teenage years, I read maybe three different authors. I always ordered the same food off restaurant menus. I would buy the same shirt in five different colors. So as I've grown older, I've found myself doing a bit of a polar shift. I've broadened my horizons in the places that needed broadening (I now read a lot of different authors and my wardrobe is a little less bland). And I have narrowed my focus in the areas that need narrowing. I now know that while I love film, politics, psychology, and science, those things are just interests. I am a writer, and I can channel all of those interests into creating compelling stories.

Problem solved! I killed fifty birds with one well-flung boulder.

Right?

Er... No. That's because there is no cure for a truly scattered mind. Now that I have solved the dilemma of what it is I want to do with my life (write), the question becomes, "What do I want to write?".

This should be easy for me. I'm a genre writer, dammit. I want to write the kind of stuff I grew up reading and loving. I love science fiction, horror, psychological thrillers, etc. So why is it that I feel like I "have" to write something commercial? That "slice of life" stuff that always seems to do so well on Bestseller lists? The stuff that is always on the front-facing shelves on the aisles at Target that I walk by and always feel a pang of, "I want to go to there."

Maybe it's because while I'm a genre writer, I see what kinds of books are selling. The kinds of books that keep wannabe authors, you know, WORKING, and I enter into a bit of a quandary. I don't want to be a sellout, but I say to myself: "I actually have these stories in me to write that fit these categories. I CAN write something that Oprah would fucking LOVE."

And so I should write that, right?

Well, not exactly. Because when it comes to sitting down to do that kind of writing, it just doesn't come out. I have the "idea" half of my brain and the "action" half of my brain, and they don't play well together and never really have. I might think I have a poignant women's fiction story to tell, but when I sit down to write it, I really just want to have the pregnant teenager into a telepathic ghost-clown killer. Or something. I'm not happy until I've put something in it that is supernatural or otherworldly or freaks you the hell out. I like straying to the darker half of the human mind the way certain flowers only like to bloom at night. It's in my nature.

Is this a coping mechanism? Shouldn't we all try to work out of our comfort zones? Sure, but I haven't spent enough time in my comfort zone to say I should be working out of it already. My first novel was not what I usually write. I'm not a comedian. Humor is not what I want to be known for. Yet, Scarlet Letters is (at least intended to be) a funny book. And it will likely go into a trunk and never see a bookshelf at the rate I'm going with finding an agent with it, but that's another story.

So I guess what I need to endeavor to do is keep my eyes firmly planted on what's in front of me. I need to finish Archer's Velvet (which is, without a doubt, exactly the weird Neil Gaiman-esque kind of stuff I'm good at writing and that I'd happily get paid to write for the rest of my life) and The Oilman's Daughter (which is steampunk--not at all my forte, but is a collaborative project and much closer to my forte than something from Oprah's book list for sure).

As for my "slice of life" literary story ideas, I'm thinking more and more that I'll have to write them from a genre perspective and write them as well as I can. I don't know if this makes me a strong or a weak writer overall, but it does play to my strengths and I think that's the most important thing.

I'm tired of feeling almost ashamed of writing fantastical stories. As if I'm "slumming" it. Maybe I'll never be the next Mark Twain or Cormac McCarthy (as much as I'd love to be), but I'm pretty sure my work will find an audience. You know, once I decide who my audience should be.

6 comments:

  1. The only time you might be ashamed of something you write is if it's not something of which you are proud. My agent says most writers wind up having to write books to pay the bills so they can write the ones that don't. She was speaking to an author not too long ago who had written about seventeen books and hated fifteen of them.

    Do you want to be That Guy? Or do you want to look at your body of work and say "Hey, maybe this stuff isn't what Oprah is pimping, but I'm damn proud of it."

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  2. I'd rather that the books I like to write also pay the bills. lol

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  3. I should also say that Stephen King and Dean Koontz are two of the highest paid writers in the business right now, writing the kind of stuff I love writing, so I know my market is there, and I wouldn't be selling out by writing it either, because it's where I want to be.

    The conflict I always have is one of "importance." I want to write pulp, but I want to be respected at the same time. LOL

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  4. I am also a Sister of the Scattered Mind. I know exactly what you mean and the answer, I've found, is--ooh, shiny!

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  5. "I'm tired of feeling almost ashamed of writing fantastical stories. As if I'm "slumming" it. Maybe I'll never be the next Mark Twain or Cormac McCarthy (as much as I'd love to be), but I'm pretty sure my work will find an audience. You know, once I decide who my audience should be."--I never used to read fantasy or scifi, Allison. Hell, I only dabbled in Stephen King. Your writing helped me to broaden my range. I totally would read anything you wrote on whatever subject and trust you're going to take me on a satisfying ride. I vote for writing in your own niche. The 'book of the moment' changes all the time. You have an incredible gift. Don't water it down for the 'main stream'. I consider myself somewhat of a book snob at times (not proudly) and you have never disappointed me. You are NOT 'slumming it' by writing what you love. I fall in love with whatever you write. It's rare that I expand my 'comfort zone' of reading genres and you have brought me out into the vast new universe of scifi, thrillers and horror. You are every bit a writer of merit as Cormac McCarthy imho. (I loved 'The Road', too.) I could certainly see you writing a book like 'The Road' actually. I love to see where your mind goes next.

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  6. Sherri -- Exactly. lol

    Jody -- Wow! Thank you so much. I am grateful to have you on my side cheering me on during times like this when I'm having trouble connecting with my work. It comes and goes. Thank you for having faith in me.

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