Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Genre writing: yes, it has a purpose

I've been a writer for as long as I can remember. As a child, I had countless journals and diaries that I filled with the dreams for and beginnings of novels. I wanted to go to college and major in creative writing long before I knew that such a major even existed. I read books like my very existence depended on meeting new characters, learning new words, exploring new worlds, and having impossible adventures.

Once I graduated from Nancy Drew and Goosebumps, I found my love for science fiction and fantasy books. This probably had a lot to do with my parents: my mom, who read my brother and I Orson Scott Card's Seventh Son long before we could really understand what was going on; and my dad, whose improvised storytelling accounted for some of my most vivid memories from a childhood that I seem to have largely forgotten.

In middle school, I entered a contest for young writers and completed my first novel (technically, a novella). It was a fusion of (as I mentioned in the last entry) Stephen Donaldson's A Mirror of Her Dreams and Diane Duane's So You Want to be a Wizard--and, of course, written by a 13-year-old. When my novel didn't win the contest, I thought about giving up on writing. I was sure that, if I wasn't good enough for a middle school writing contest, I wouldn't ever be good enough to get anything published. But after some time, I began to work on the story again. The plot and the characters grew with me throughout the years as I matured and read more and discovered new writing voices. I rewrote the book several times, killed and birthed different characters, created a new world, honed talents, introduced morality. Then I wrote a sequel and had lofty plans for a third in the series. But then my mind began to wander, and I wrote new stories and sequels to those. I tried writing from the point of view of girls, then of adults, and young children, then people who were disabled, some who couldn't speak, and I created new languages.

I became aware in high school of the stigmas that are attached to the scifi/fantasy genre. It's difficult to put into words, but largely I became aware that when I told people I wrote (and read) scifi/fantasy, they saw me as a joke--it was as if scifi/fantasy books couldn't be serious or important or have anything valuable to say about the world. I also felt, some place below my conscious mind, the stigma that scifi/fantasy was written by and for men only--and I'm a woman (and was a girl). Desperately wanting my writing to be accepted and for people not to judge me harshly the moment I uttered those words, I searched for a new way to label my writing--and I came up with creative fiction. Still, though, I wasn't satisfied.

In college, I went through a period where I lost my writing--I told my family I was still working on my novels, but I really wasn't. Sometimes I would sit down at my computer and read through my stories (often hundreds of pages worth of writing), change a few spelling or grammar errors here and there, and then quit. I worked on my writing for workshops, and since there was no "genre writing" allowed in most classes, I learned in another way that scifi and fantasy weren't good enough.

I got a fiction short story published my freshman year, but I resented it a little. It seemed to me that now I had to explain to my family and the people who knew I'd been a fantasy writer all my life that my first publication wasn't in my chosen genre. I had a difficult time explaining to new people I was meeting that I was a fantasy writer--not to mention the prodding, disbelieving questions when I told people I was going to school for creative writing--but I thought that the fact I'd gotten something published would give me some credibility in their eyes.

For so long, I thought that I had to overcome other people's bad opinions about genre writing, and though that is still true to some extent, what I really needed to change was my own attitude to it all. I considered myself and my writing unworthy--my embarrassment about being a genre writer stopped me from standing up for myself when I knew that the quality of my writing was very good, and my ideas were creative and clever.

Just this morning, I came to an understanding about my chosen genres. I'd been worried so long that people didn't think my writing meant anything or could say anything valuable about the world, but after so many years of reading scifi/fantasy, I finally understand something different. Fantasy gives people an opportunity to explore what's good about the world through the lens of a new one. Science fiction is a way to understand the potential problems that will develop in the future if the world society/economy/mindset stays the course it is on, and how to deal with them. While both these genres can be fun (and what isn't fun about discovering that you can hop through mirrors into different worlds, or play war games in anti-gravity, or how the needle may have been invented?), they can also be tremendously important. Reading or writing scifi/fantasy is not just about escaping our world and wishing you could live in another--on a very important level, it's about how no world is ideal, but ours is the one we live in, so how can we make it better?

That's what I want to do with my writing--I want to see my world and be the one to take a stand against a problem if I'm the one who sees it. But I also want to celebrate the joy and beauty of being alive. I know I can do that with whatever form of writing I choose.

Learning lots,

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful explanation of a misunderstood and under appreciated novel. I was surprised when I learned how much fantasy and sci-fi you read, and when I read pieces of your writing. But our conversations about books and reading your pieces has really helped to open my eyes to a genre I knew almost nothing about. I'm learning about it through you and I love it! So you're one step closer to reaching your goal :)