Monday, March 31, 2008

What You Can Learn From Genre Writers

During my MFA program, the mere mention of "genre fiction" sent my fellow writers a-cringin'. There is a feeling of superiority that literary fiction writers have over writers who write mystery, romance, science fiction, erotica, and so on. Even most lit journals clearly specify that genre writers need not apply. I'm not defending genre writing in terms of prose or other artistic considerations (there's the lit snob in me again). But recently I was researching different drafting and editing methods online, and the best advice out there seemed to be from genre writers. Here's one good example from YA writer Holly Lisle.

In terms of productivity, genre writers have literary fiction writers beat. With the exception of a few truly exceptional literary fiction writers (Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, John Steinbeck, Charles Bukowski, Joyce Carol Oates, etc.) genre writers outproduce us about 5 to 1. You could stop me right there and try to slap me down with the "quality over quantity" argument, and in some ways you'd be right. But too often literary fiction writers look at each book as his or her magnum opus, and therefore spend 10 years writing them and often never finish them.

I think many genre writers have a healthy understanding that this is a job as well as a craft. You write a book, then try your damndest to get it published, meanwhile already starting on your second book. You could also say that it's easier for genre writers to write books fast because many write serials starring the same characters or the plots are formulaic to that genre. We lit fiction writers are not as original as we think, however. In fact, if I had a McGriddle sandwich for every "Mom with cancer" short story and half-ass metafiction novel I've read, I'd be fatter than James Gandolfini.

There seems to be a healthy acceptance in the genre world that what you write will be used and eventually end up in the bargain bin or landfill--because it will. Craftspeople like woodworkers, ceramists, and jewelry makers produce artistic products, sell as many as they can, and make more. Every writing instructor will tell you that writing a lot is the only way to make you a better writer. I realized that I was writing my novel particularly slowly because I was afraid of finishing. I didn't know what was next. But after getting some good advice online, I realized that I have to finish this damn book already and start the next one.