I read books from every genre and from every literary background, and I hope everyone else does too. The more I read, however, the more I think about the motivations to write in a specific way, or specific genre.
What is the draw to writing Horror? Why does creating a fantasy world appeal to some people? What is the difference between the two and what are the similarities?
The more I think about it, it comes down to drive, talent and interest.
There is a phrase in the writing community where you should always “write what you know”. I’ve always thought that was a strange concept, because many of the things that I was interested in growing up, and in fact still to this day, have no basis in reality, so what does that really mean?
Writing what you know to me doesn’t have anything to do with writing what happened to you today (though for some people, that’s exactly what that means), it means writing what your interest is.
Growing up and going to creative writing classes there is a great disdain for genre writing. (I was told many times, why didn’t I just write something real? Why was I wasting my time?) These people wanted to play with form and they wanted to be artistes (as Joyce would put it), but really unless you have incredible talent, at a high school level, or as a freshman in college you wouldn’t be able to produce anything of value anyway (look at Pynchon’s “Slow Learner”. The title says it all).
So I wrote what I knew. I wrote what I was interested in. What is amazing is how your abilities grow the more you use them. If you look at any of my earlier work, I am most definitely a slow learner, but writing is like woodworking, the more you do it the better you get. you start to notice pitfalls, you start to notice your own eccentricities.
To layer on that you need to study other’s works. The more you read the more you see how other authors have honed their craft. How they have perfected their voice. You take all this information and you mold it in your own work and eventually you get your own style.
So your interest gets you started and you can perfect your talent.
The only think left is drive.
One can go from being a genre hack to being a very respected author, whether they stay within their genre or not. Everything there comes down to drive. What is it that propels you into the writing world? Is it money? Is it fame? (Get a reality check if it’s either of these) or is it the love of telling stories?
If it’s money or fame, you’ll never progress beyond hack level (Palahniuk, I’m looking at you), but if it’s the love of telling stories you develop a drive. That drive gets stronger and stronger with every success that you have, because you begin to realize that others are willing to listen to your stories. You strive to do more, so you get better and better. You develop a specific voice. Those interests you once had broaden, and you start believing that everything you have is literature. You develop depth and passion. Your genre writing now can be read by anyone and it’ll be looked at as joining a club (just look at George R.R. Martin’s success…assuming he ever finishes his series).
So write what you know. Read everything and write every day. Have fun and don’t worry about what others think. You may write one story that people never see. You may write a thousand, but eventually you’ll write that one that’ll break the barrier and you’ll get to start sharing with the world.
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one becomes a master.” Ernest Hemingway.
Six years ago I was working on my first book. It was a self published book of short stories and I got confirmation from the publisher before I had a definite idea of what I was going to actually do.
The was to be a book of short stories which I had written over the years. The problem was I had ten stories and four of those were just too horrible to publish. I was so dead set on publishing something, that i just decided to write like crazy and do all the things that I ever wanted to do to experiment with writing. I was writing a blog on Myspace at the time (can you believe that site is still around?) and I carried around a notebook in San Francisco, faking that I was a beat writer. I loved the glamour of it, but at the same time I understood I wasn’t very good. Then one day I was sitting outside of Java Beach Cafe and i wrote down this prose:
Why is there that dreadful despair?
That meandering distraction?
I think I could be good.
I think I have potential to be a good, if not great writer.
It’s such a difficult process, and yet
for many people it just flows,
As if their body excreted talent.
I have potential.
Many people have potential.
There are plenty of cases of first publish at first go.
There are also those who have no potential,
or to be frank,
people who don’t know what their doing.
I’m in a middle group,
between the ignorant and the talented.
I have potential.
I study art.
I’m no artist.
I contemplate it. I assimilate it. I gorge in it, and
I fake it.
To people with talent. It’s a drive.
It’s ever present, forceful.
It becomes deleterious in it’s absence.
The ignorant don’t understand at all.
they see a great piece of fiction
and they don’t know what it means.
It needs to be spelled out.
It is after all…work.
They don’t feel the drive so it doesn’t make sense.
It’s a wonderment.
I have potential. I study it. I see art.
I appreciate art. I love art.
I am not artistically inclined.
I do not have talent, I have potential.
I rambled on for a little while longer, but I think the idea is prevalent here. The idea that I didn’t elucidate here was the amount of work that you have to put in. NOthing in this field comes easily, and where there are people like Dickens, Proust, King, and Shakespeare, who apparently can just sit down and pour out their creativity, for most of us it’s work. We need to write, and re-write, and edit and re-write again. I finished off that prose-poem, by saying that I wanted to fool the world into thinking that I have talent. I think my talent has grown, but that’s because of the work that I’ve put in.
So for everyone out there who wants to be a writer? Just sit down and tell some stories. It doesn’t matter how good they are, how literary they are, how robust. As long as they come from your heart, you can continue and you too will develop that talent.
I recently watched a TED talk (I know, I know, but it was for my other job OK?) where the speaker (Simon Sinek) spoke about how leaders become leaders. How some people excel and how others don’t. Of course I immediately started to think about writing.
Mr. Sinek says in his talk, that people or groups fail because they talk about what they do. The people or groups who succeed talk about why they do it.
This is something I’ve always struggled with. When people ask what my book is about, or what I’m writing about, I ramble on about some such theme, or some kind of similarity to something else, to try and give them an understanding of what it’s about and if they think they’ll like it.
But all I’m doing is boring people with what I’m writing. What is going to make them pick up my book over someone else’s? What makes my Twilight Zone inspired short story collection unique from someone else’s Twilight Zone inspired short story collection? What makes my Children’s Chapter book series different from someone else’s? Content? Ability? Character?
Marketing is always something I’ve struggled with because I’ve always thought about what I’m doing. I’ve always described what I was doing to people. I’ve never discussed why I did it.
This still isn’t a easy subject to broach, because for the most part, I’ve never thought about it myself. I’ve always said I write because I love to tell stories, but is this the truth? Is there something more?
The more I think about it, everything comes back to Belief.
I believe in myself. I believe in my writing. I believe in what writing stands for.
I believe that if I can write a children’s chapter book series about literature, than I will inspire a child to go out and read some of that literature.
I believe that that child will be once of the next leaders of the world.
I believe that by writing a science fiction story that pushes a character past the limits of their imagination, then the reader will believe that they can do something past their own.
I believe writing improves the world. That is the meaning behind what I do. I strive to make the world better one person at a time.
That is why I’ll succeed. Because I wont stop. I believe it too hard to give up.
Back in college one of my best friends turned this phrase about a band he was listening to. I believe the band was “Failure” and indeed I had never heard of them before, and indeed the band was truly great.
Since then I have taken to that phrase and I use it to describe authors, movies and music that I’ve discovered and most people have never heard of it. I’ve a penchant for posting music periodically on my Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/Sean-McBride-Author-293451414004074/?fref=nf ), but I thought I’d take a moment to post some authors that you probably haven’t heard of, but are tremendous talents.
This guy is like a mixture of J.D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac, but for a modern crowd. Anyone who liked “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, you need to read “The Fuck-Up” by Nersessian. He speaks of New York in such a real way, he echoes Paul Auster, who is known for his books about New York. Description aside, he writes angst, despair, hope and happiness with such pith, that you really feel for the characters, instead of being told how to feel about them. Truly a wonderful author, check him out.
He follows in the footsteps of the magical realists, where he takes these strange premises and adds in some kind of supernaturality, or magic. For example in “The Illumination” whenever anyone gets hurt, or cut, their injury lights up. What Brockmeier does so well is let you infer what is actually going on. Your imagination blooms when reading him. He writes with such incredible heart and poise and grace. Everything he does is short, but if you can sit back and really think about what he’s trying to say it’ll blow your world.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Zafon is a little more well known than the first two, but there are still so many people who have never had the absolute joy of reading one of his books. As of the writing of this blog he has three adult books, which are semi-sequels in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books sequence, and five children books which easily read as adult. Zafon has been linked to being up on Umberto Eco’s level, and his writing is so lyrical is really does sing to your soul. Of course having Lucia Graves translate it from it’s native Spanish just elevates it that much more. With echoes of Shakespeare, Goethe, Dickens, Proust, Eco and so many more, they are just beautiful stories “The Shadow of the Wind” being my favorite book of all time. If you’ve ever considered yourself a writer then you must read either “The Shadow of the Wind” or “The Angels Game”. They will change your life.
And now for something completely different. You may not recognize the name, but many of you will probably recognize his epic first novel “House of Leaves”. At turns creepy, vivid, and evocative, Danielewski plays with form like nobody ever has. If you’re a fan of Palahniuk because of his form, drop that hack’s shock jock bilge and pick up anything by Danielewski (And really if you’re the fan of the shock value, pick up Bret Easton Ellis, or Irvine Welsh). You’ll find yourself turning the book around and reading from back to front, but you’ll also find yourself biting your fingers, crying, laughing and just down right flabbergasted. Just as deep as everyone else on this list, but because of form, not because of prose. Try out “House of Leaves”, it may take you a year to read, but you’ll find yourself going back to it.
That’s all for now, but I’ll be sure to post more later!