As fiction writers, we are often called upon to think outside the box. To invent new ways to see the world. To break away from the ordinary and create characters who stand out, if for no other reason than their normalness in the context of calamity. Which is why it really amazes me, or rather really infuriates me, that writers as a group seem hell-bent on squarely defining what it means to be a writer and how to be a good one.
Some insist studying the craft of writing in an academic setting make you a better writer. Others are convinced academia is just a sham and a complete waste of time and money. Then there is the whole “professional editing debate” with throngs of writers insisting hiring a professional editor is an imperative while a healthy group of dissenters believe that self-editing is more than sufficient and paying for editing is just feeding a money-hungry establishment out to take advantage of publishing writers.
And let’s not even talk about use of adverbs.
Or passive voice.
Or chapter length.
Or even genre.
And initiate a discussion about 50 Shades of Gray or The Twilight Series, or the author of some other successful book deemed less-than-worthy at your own risk!
Dare to post a question about character development or point of view and the fast exchange of opinions often devolves into I-know-better-than-you conversations where young or inexperienced writers get ripped to shreds, and more experienced writers toss barbs and insults instead of imparting insightful wisdom. The amount of disrespect and cruelty I see exchanged in writing groups and on social media is staggering. It’s like finding success in writing turns some of us into intolerant, nasty tyrants. But why? No one writer will ever control the realm of writing. Why be a troll when you can be something vastly more interesting?
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of writers, like me, who understand that the process of becoming a successful writer is different for everyone. Just like there is no one way to learn to be a good cook, no one way to learn to paint, or play an instrument. Stop for a minute and imagine what the world would look like if there was. Every chocolate cake would look and taste the same, every painting brushed from the same palette, every song written in the same key. Writing and storytelling is an art, a field of expression capable of supporting an infinite number of styles and techniques. And it is constantly evolving, as we all should be.
To those who are still learning this craft, I say this: if you are interested in taking classes or joining groups to learn how to write, or to improve your skills, then do it. If self-study is more your thing, then have at it. Want to edit your own work? Go for it? Want to hire an editor? There are plenty of options. As long as you are working to define your voice and improve your skills, then you are free to define your success as a writer in your own way. Carve a path to that goal based on what works for you. And don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Know of any constructive and supportive writing groups? Please share them in the comments.