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Labels, genres, and other things that limit you

21 Mar

When I was much younger, just beginning to become aware of myself in relationship to the rest of the world, I realized three very important things that determined much of the person I’ve become- 1) that there is an immense amount of pressure for you to “fit in;” 2) that depending on who you fit in with, people will try to label you; and 3) that I wanted nothing to do with any of that, thankyouverymuch.

It was a hard road to follow. Did I find people I fit in with? More or less. We respected an appreciated each other, and while we did have many things in common we were not the same people. We were individuals, with very different things to offer to the world. People tried to label us, “goth” or “punk” or “freaks,” but when it came down to it we were just doing what we wanted, regardless of labels, regardless of what each other was doing.

In my writing, I’ve come to find that the same principles apply. I’ve let myself become bogged down on one level or another by the marketing aspect of publishing. I’ve mistaken craft for industry, and those are two very different things. Yes, you should write an opening sentence that pulls the reader in- but no, you should not write your entire novel based around what’s going to sell the most copies. So when it comes to writing for an audience, it gets tricky. The main reason to write for an audience is because you want to sell the book to them, which is fine. But is that why you’re writing to begin with?

If it is, then read no further. This entry will only piss you off. Because for me, writing is something I do because I must- I must tell stories, I must craft worlds, I must get to know characters and witness their struggles and triumphs. I write stories because I love to write, and yes I do want to sell them and have them be read, and ideally make a living from my passion. But what I’ve come to realize recently is that it can be very tempting to sacrifice a story in the name of securing an audience. Often, audiences come packaged under something I’ve come to really dislike, the labels known as “genres.”

Genres are just another form of labeling. They limit your creativity tremendously, lock you in, stifle the flow of your story. For instance, if you decide to write for young adults because that seems to be where the market is thriving- but wait, one of your main characters is an adult… Do not even for an instant consider changing that character based on the fact that it makes your story not fit into that genre. For the story to really shine you have to be true to it, from beginning to end. The soul of the story, that thing that burrows into the reader’s heart and makes a home there, it can only be found when the author tries to recreate the story given to them to tell in it’s most pure and, in many ways, divine form.

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You can see that I look at writing as more of a spiritual experience than anything else– I hope that’s been apparent for some time now. I’m a spiritual person– my spirituality (read: NOT RELIGION) is one of the most important things about my existence. Writing is not terribly separate from that. And there are a lot of people who would disagree with me about this, that to sell we must conform, to make our story the most accessible and widely read we must change it because the experts say so. But I have a whole lot of faith in the story– about as much as I have in the audience to be able to appreciate what it’s worth. Call me naive if you want, but I would rather have high hopes than low expectations. Being a writer–indeed, an artist of any kind–is about trusting in your own ability to create something beautiful.

Do you find genres to be helpful or hindering as a writer? What about as a reader?

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