Jeanne: Writing What You Like

“To thine own self be true,” Polonius tells children in Hamlet, “and it must follow, as the night the day, thou cans’t not then be false to any man.”

The problem with this advice, of course, is that Polonius is as false a man as exists in all of literature, a consummate politician whose eye is always on the main chance, who’s willing to prostitute his daughter if it means wining a bigger role in the government of Denmark.

Still, if you take his advice as it exists on the surface, it’s good counsel.

One of the reasons it took me so long to really start writing was that I was embarrassed by what I wanted to write: romance. Tawdry, pulpy, emotionally adolescent romance.

When I told people that, they’d say, “You can do better than that. You’re smarter than that.”

But when I tried to write other genres, my heart wasn’t in it, and my efforts went nowhere. The fact is, I love the sunny optimism of a genre where the promise of happy ever after is implicit. I love stories that feature people who manage to change in fundamental ways that make their lives better.

One of the lovely things about growing older is you come to realize that, regardless of where you graduated in your high school class or how high your SAT scores were, you’re actually not that smart. By the time you turn sixty, you have a history that makes it clear you’re really just a step up from a pet rock.

So, to every writer out there who’s yet to achieve the lofty status of sexagenarianism, I say give yourself a bye and just assume you’re dumb enough to write whatever takes your fancy.

Live like you’re sixty and write what you want.

10 thoughts on “Jeanne: Writing What You Like

  1. I totally disagree that you are only a step up from a pet rock (garage mishap notwithstanding). Smart people write and read romance for exactly the reasons you give. Character arcs and happy endings. If I want dark stories, I can read the newspaper. I think the rep for romance is changing because the books that have been published in, say, the last five years have smarter, take charge heroines than the ones from the 1970s when the genre took off with the mainstream publications of Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Flame and The Flower. Heroines had to be passive, “not want it,” and be rescued by the hero back then. None of those apply now. Now, they actively pursue a worthwhile goal, get it, and save themselves. Yeah them and yeah us for writing them down.

    • I completely agree with you about the romance genre: over the past 40 years, it’s become a whole lot smarter, a reflection of the way women, by and large, have become a whole lot wiser. I watch the Millennials settling into adulthood (considerably later than we did, but okay), raising their families in a way that’s a whole lot more involved and egalitarian than my generation ever considered being. I t gives me hope for the whole human race.

  2. I always intended to write romance, but it took me a long time to get around to it. I didn’t make it a priority because compared with my professional career/day job it seemed like a self-indulgent and frivolous way to spend my time, and I think that was thanks to the mind-set you describe above. I wish I’d seen the light sooner, but at least I got there in the end – and I still have a little time before I hit the three-score years landmark 🙂

  3. So, so true. (-: Especially the part about book-larnin’ not making one necessarily smart. I did well in school, and I think it trained me to depend on approval from others (especially teachers) too much. I need to learn to give myself permission to have fun, and also to write to MY standards, not some standards that I imagine someone else is holding. Thinking I’m smart has led to some really dumb moves.

    I want to feel more accurately, if that makes any sense.

    • It makes total sense. It’s like what J.D. Salinger talks about in his short story, “Teddy.”–that you have to vomit up the apple of logic to see things clearly. And rational thinking definitely gets in the way of feeling–sometimes for the good, sometimes for the not-so-good.

      • Wow. That is an amazing phrase. I’m going to have to look for that short story.

        That’s just packed with things to think about. You know how when sex and shit jokes got so common and lost their ability to shock? And then Monty Python did that revolting “vomiting in a restaurant” scene as comedy. Ugh. Vomiting has a lot of feeling to it. And the apple for the teacher of logic . . . .

        Logic does have a way of soothing us, and blinding us to things that feel wrong, but don’t look wrong.

        (-: You gave me something to do this evening. I’m going to be working through that one.

        • “The apple of logic” has shades of Adam and Eve, too. That little phrase is just jam-packed, isn’t it? Probably why it stuck with me for so long. And definitely find “Teddy,” (it’s in the Nine Stories collection)–it’s my favorite short story of all time.

  4. The happy ending part is what got me to write romance. I like mysteries a lot, too, and while mysteries end with moral justice (was that what we said in class?), sometimes the endings are still pretty bleak. With romance, no.

    As for being affected by what those close to you say about romance, there’s no doubt that writers are swayed by family. There’s been a poignant thread on the Marie Force self-publishing group about validation, and I’m surprised and shocked at how many terrific writers say their families mock and discourage them. Divorce those people, that’s what I say. Life is too damn short to be trying to live up to the expectations of others.

  5. Pingback: Michaeline: Finding Writing Hope on the Internet | Eight Ladies Writing

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