Monday, June 27, 2011

There Are No Writing Police

It's no secret that I enjoy lurking on writing message boards. First, I like being around that much excitement and creativity. It's just a good vibe, especially when I'm feeling down about my own work. Second, sometimes you find amazing gems... and I will leave the definition of gem up to your imagination. ;)

But sometimes (ok, most of the time), reading these boards makes me angry, especially the forums where people talk about publication, specifically whether or not something is "allowed." For example, a post asking whether or not it's ok to combine subgenres, (eg, an epic fantasy with superhero elements or a steampunk vampire romance (note to self, write steampunk vampire romance)), or if editors will automatically reject a werewolf book, or if you're allowed to put horror elements in your Regency, etc. And then people will post back and forth with the various pros and cons of whatever the question was, but by this point my husband is usually prying the keyboard out of my hands before I turn into a flaming troll.

So, in the interest of not being a troll on a forum, I will post my trollage here. Everyone, repeat after me:


If you are a writer, and you have a novel you are excited about writing... write it. Don't go on message boards and ask random internet denizens whether or not something is allowed. Or, if you're a feedback junkie and you just can't keep yourself from posting, whatever you do, do NOT go pulling things you like out of your novel because someone on the internet told you "that won't sell" or "you can't do that."

Who is the writer here? YOU ARE. Whose book is it? YOUR BOOK. There are no writing police. No one is going to arrest you if you write a teen vampire novel post Twilight. No one is going to send you off to an island to live a wretched life of worm eating and regret because you DARED to bring urban fantasy elements into a space opera. If you have a book that you want to write, then just write the damn thing. Don't worry about selling it, that comes later. Worry about making your book work, worry about how you're order the scenes to create tension, worry about if your character's actions are actually in character. Worry about your grammar. DON'T worry about which of your stylistic choices some potential future editor will use to reject you, and for the love of little puppies don't worry about trends. Trying to catching a trend is like trying to catch a falling knife - dangerous, foolhardy, and often ending in tears, usually yours.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't pay attention to what's getting published, but what I am saying is you should never sacrifice the elements that make your novel exciting to you because you think those elements will hurt your sales... especially if you haven't even finished the novel yet and all sales are still hypothetical.

Until your novel starts getting actual rejections from people whose job it is to know what sells in publishing, never change anything in your book unless you're doing it to make the book better. If your YA features fairies, vampires, and selkies and you decide halfway through that the vampires are over complicating your plot, that is an appropriate time to cut the bloodsuckers. If you decide to cut your vampires because you read on some internet forum that "vampires are lame," then you are betraying yourself and your work.

If you're like pretty much every other author in the world, then you became a writer because you had stories you wanted to tell. Those are your stories, no one can tell them better than you can. So write your stories, and then edit your stories again and again until you have something you're proud of. Write stories that excite you, stories you can't wait to share with the world because they're just so amazing. Write stories that you throw away because you realize halfway through that your amazing idea wasn't actually so amazing. If you want to write Murder She Wrote in space with anime style mecha, go for it. There are no writing police. Nothing is off limits unless you do it badly. And if you must obsess over something, obsess over stuff like tension and pacing and creating believable characters. You know, the shit that matters.

It's your story, tell it like you want to. 


SJ Drum said...

Thank You! I have the elves in my urban fantasy living in a steampunk-ish village. I say, why not?!

Sarah Adams said...

Bravo! I spent way too many years listening to the thought police before I realized they only really existed in my head.

Abbie said...

Wow. I'm so glad I've never really gotten into the writing forums on the internet. Or been silly enough to think I needed to ditch an element of my story for any other reason than that it stopped serving the story.

Kate @ Candlemark said...

Hear hear!

I actually got one GREAT submission from a guy who had no idea how to characterize his comic superhero novel. He originally wrote to me asking "what genre is this?" and my response was "who CARES, it's brilliant. Just tell your story!"


That's the important part. Not how you're slotted at the bookstore - at least, not until you're AT the bookstore. For the writing part, just WRITE IT.

Because that's how we get stuff like Bildungsromantasyjungianmythpunkanime ...which I really want to read, btw.

coconats said...

Thank you for writing this. :) I think it's an important message that a lot of struggling writers tend to forget.

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hlynn117 said...

I love your posts. I wish every new writer would take this to heart. I was so concerned with 'being right' that it hindered my writing. I wrote some strong books, but they failed to resonant (I think...) because I thought too much about them instead of just loving the story and loving the characters.

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