I am currently reading On Writing by Steven King. I’m just in the beginning of it, his biography, and I’ve reached the part where he tells the story of his first self published endeavor in eight grade. His English teacher pulls him aside and commits that most unforgivable of sins: she tells this budding artist that he is wasting his time and talent writing “junk.”
I’m sure everyone reading this can remember a time when, early in their carriers as writers (or even some other artistic endevour) that someone has said this time them. Usually someone we care about, someone that we look up to, someone who’s opinion matters to us. Most often, it is several someones, strung out over a period of time.
“Why do you waste your time writing that fantasy crap?”
“Sci-fi? You should write something important.”
“You’re clearly a talented writer, why waste your time on this?”
As if sci-fi/fantasy writers have no talent. I’d love to see someone tell Neil Gaiman that he’s wasting his time. Or go to J. K. Rolling now and ask why she isn’t writing something important. See, it’s only a waste of time until you succeed.
And usually combined with these statements are the people that want to encourage you, but secretly feel the same way. They say things like this:
“I think it’s wonderful that you want to write, but what are you going to do for a living?”
“That’s great, but you really need to learn a skill you can make money with.”
And while, yes, it is true that most authors still need a day job, the fact is, these people are telling new artists, most of whom are still unsure of themselves, unsteady in their new paths, that they do not have what it takes to make it. And this, to me, is unforgivable.
I speak from personal experience here. I’ve had people I love and who matter to me say many of these things. And I didn’t write for years because of them. I spent most of my time in high-school wondering what I would do for a living, because I was suppressing my artistic desires. Because I belived that I was not good enough to make money doing them. I’m not blaiming these people, you need to understand. I’m just saying that what I did was believe the things they said to me, because I didn’t yet know better. And I really wish people would stop doing this to new artists.
One day, after I had decided to become a writer, and fuck it all if no one else agreed with me, I was asked this question by a co-worker when she found out I wanted to write fantasy and sci-fi novels.
“Why? You’re clearly talented, why not write something more important? Why not write that Great American Novel?”
Here’s what I said back to her.
I don’t want to write the Great American Novel. I don’t even know what that is. I just want to write a good story that will entertain people. I want to write a book that people will read, finish, put down and call up their friend and say “I just finished this great book, you gotta read it.” I’m not looking to make history, or have my novel added to some High School required reading list. I just want to write good stories that entertain people, maybe make them think, and have them sharing those stories with friends.
And when she nodded her head and then asked again “but why fantasy?” I replied this.
Because I love it.
And this is what I want to tell all new writers out there. Don’t let people push you back, don’t let them pull you down, don’t let them stop you from writing what you want to write.
There are a lot of genre’s out there that I am not a fan of. Romance, paranormal romance and horror top my list. But I will never, ever, tell a new writer that they shouldn’t waste their time on that “junk.” If they are fans of those genres, if they are passionate about what they write, they should by all means go and write it. Just because it’s not something I would read doesn’t mean it’s something that shouldn’t be written. It just means that I’m not that target audience.
So, find what you’re passionate about, find what works for you, and write it.
Because it’s not a waste of time.