How Would You Know?
Or, This Soapbox Was Starting to Look Dusty
I've learned my lesson the hard way. No one wants to hear that I'm going to be a writer. This is a confusing answer. How does one respond to such a declaration? Few seem to know, choosing either polite bewilderment ("Oh ... I see."), a rapid change of subject, or, my personal favourite, an announcement of exactly what I should be writing.
I don't know what strikes me as more interesting: that others think that they know better than I do what I should be writing, or that they believe they are being helpful with such declarations. I can't even get mad (much) at this behaviour, simply because I know that it's never done out of a desire to be offensive or hurtful in any way. The fact that it can be taken as such is secondary.
A couple of days ago I met a woman who is, I'm sure, a perfectly lovely person. She smiled at lot and was very polite. Upon hearing that I was going to be a writer (not by me, either--my stance is that I already am a writer, regardless of whether you've bought a book by me or not), she told me that I really should write children's books. Children's books are so popular right now! They're wonderful, and so short, and easy to write! And, my favourite, "You don't even have to think of a story. So many children's books are just rewritten fairy tales and the like that you don't have to do anything new. It's all done for you!"
This is supposed to be a positive thing, apparently. Never mind the fact that for a rewritten fairy tale to be worth anyone's time, it had better have something new. Etc, etc.
And, in another recent conversation, it was recommended that I try to write something funnier. Something upbeat. Something with an uplifting ending. Escapist fiction at its best.
I should stop right here and say that there is absolutely no way that I am ever going to slam escapist fiction. I'm an SF person--how could I even dream of putting down escapist fiction? Escapist fiction got me through adolescence relatively unscathed, and continues to save my sanity on a fairly regular basis. What's more, I know how difficult it is to write good fiction of that type, and I respect those who can do it.
HOWEVER, there is a difference between enjoying reading something and having a desire to write it. How can I explain that for all that I enjoy a book that simply takes me away for a while, plunges me into another place or time or life, that that alone is not enough? That kind of fiction is not what I have a passion for.
I wonder if part of the confusion is the understanding of how a writerly mind works. I can't speak for all writers, of course, but I can't control the ideas that I have, nor do I control the characters who present themselves to me. Sure, I can change things and revise and develop certain aspects of the story or characteristics of a person more or less, but I can't suddenly think of a new kind of story. Happy-happy endings rarely resonate with me. I love ambiguity, and emotional entanglement, and shifts in expectations--or, at the very least, the dark shadow of difficulty to come.
And my concept of "uplifting" appears to be vastly different than others'. Two stories of mine that I consider to have "uplifting" endings--or at least on the happy end of the scale--end in the destruction of the world. Yay for the end of the world, that's what I say!
I also understand the theory of "With everything that's wrong with the world today, people just want to get away from it, forget about it for a while." Totally understand this point of view. My reaction? Write stories of insanity and loss and war. I'm diving back into the "Loving the Bomb" universe with great excitement.
And none of this even begins to address the issue of writing style.
It's not as if I am going blindly into this. I know full well that the audience of my work is notably smaller than if I was writing, say, fantasy with strong romantic subplots, or action-adventure type SF. But I write what I have a passion for, work that I think is meaningful, and have come to realize that there will always be those who think I am missing wonderful opportunities, and cheating myself out of an audience, and whatever else. Let them.
And when people ask me what I'm going to be after I graduate, I now reply, "Poor."