Before I became a novelist, I enjoyed an unsuccessful career as an actor in London. For almost ten years — from the age of 18 to the age of 27 — I was convinced that the stage was my vocation. I went to drama school after University, I graduated, and then proceeded to make no money as an actor apart from sporadic stints as a TV and film extra.
And when I say, ‘I enjoyed an unsuccessful career as an actor,’ I really mean it. I had a great time. I genuinely enjoyed the process of being an actor e.g. the auditions, being on stage and being an extra on set, even though I wasn’t very good at it. The constant strain between trying to have the time to create art and earn enough money to survive was something I enjoyed markedly less.
By the time I reached my late twenties, it was the latter which made me quit the profession, not the profession itself. I was simply tired of the hustle. But in reflecting on why I was so unsuccessful it occurred to me that acting wasn’t right for me and I wasn’t right for acting. I felt intellectually unstimulated by the profession and bored by it at the end.
Other areas of my life were not developed because acting is all consuming and I wanted to do things like political activism and writing. What I most enjoyed as an actor was “working” (I didn’t get paid, but it sure as hell was work…) as an improv comedian. I produced a show wherein myself and a team of other actors would create an hour-long play from scratch with no script.
In retrospect what I enjoyed about this whole process was the storytelling rather than the acting. I drifted into producing my own work and writing because I wanted to engage with the whole story rather that just a single character I was employed to play. Being able to manage the whole story is something actors don’t often get to do, but novelists always get to do.
I was also engaging with the work of an actor on an intellectual level i.e. let’s analyse the script from a literary perspective — and that’s not what the end product of acting is about. I was not treating the art the way the art needs to be treated for an actor to be successful. In other words, I had chosen the wrong artistic medium for myself.
Still longing for a creative outlet, I turned to writing — surely now I would be successful and finally get the personal satisfaction I wanted as well. Guess again! My first writing attempts were not novels, they were screenplays. My first screenplay was so bad — I looked at it recently and, frankly, I’m embarrassed that I actually showed it to people.
All my attempts at writing screenplays failed. I know when my output is shit. There are technical considerations when writing a screenplay that I didn’t feel compelled enough to learn. Not only that, but a film is a collaborative product. Once a writer completes the screenplay, it gets handed over to a director and the script in many ways becomes the foundation of someone else’s art.
I had chosen the wrong artistic medium for myself again. I am an introvert and I prefer to work alone. I prefer to explore the emotional depth of the characters I create through words rather than visuals. I prefer to manage my creative output completely from start to finish. That’s not something a writer can ever do with a screenplay.
I know so many creatives who start out in one field but find success in another. My advice to budding artists would be — think carefully about what art really suits your personality and your way of working. Think incredibly hard about what you want to explore through your art and what is the best medium through which to explore whatever that is.
If you’re a painter and you hate waiting for your paintings to dry — paint with acrylics rather than oils.
If you’re a photographer and you love being outside — concentrate on landscape and wildlife rather than portraiture.
If you’re crafty but you hate getting your hands dirty — don’t choose painting or pottery, do embroidery instead.
These things may sound obvious, but a lot of artists create art they don’t like because they think it’s the art they should be creating or it’s the most worthy art to create. They don’t ask themselves basic questions like: does making this make me happy? Did I enjoy the process of making that? Ask the questions. Do the introspection and do the work. Be the artist you want to be.
To be a great artist, you must know yourself well. When choosing what medium to work in — selfishly cater to your own satisfaction. For me, that only came with maturity, repeated trial and error and many, many, many failures. But it was worth it
This article by David H. Freedman really touched a nerve with me this week. In it, Freedman argues that valuing intelligence over all other desirable human traits is affording an unearnt privilege to an already blessed stratum of society. Worse still — Freedman notes — is that contemporary society has created structural barriers that hinder the less intelligent, when they are the very people who may need encouragement the most.
Society has become increasingly academicised, and I would argue that this is a profound social ill. Jobs that are unrelated to academia e.g. day-to-day childcare, are now more and more unattainable without degrees (and the costs they incur to get them). Not only is it irrational, but it’s a sad reflection on society that employers value academic achievement over all other characteristics. I don’t know a single parent who would prefer their Nanny to be smart and qualified, but cruel, over someone who is of average intelligence but warm, considerate and kind.
I also don’t know many Graduates who would consider a career as a Nanny desirable. The only person I know who has worked as a Nanny, is someone without a degree. The over-valuation of possessing an academic degree has made the careers that traditionally didn’t need one seem second-best, no matter how vital they are. The people who would rather have a vocational career than scale the corporate ladder have been tossed onto the same scrapheap.
Such a large amount of effort has been expended to make non-academic professions fit into an academic hole one must ask: “but why?”
The drive towards academicisation has been spearheaded by social progressives in spite of the fact that making pricey degrees a prerequisite for employment inherently works against poorer people who are less able to achieve a flashy academic record. Academia is the realm of the Left. This insistence on everyone attending University/College has a lot more to do with Leftists wanting to filter and assimilate the young and impressionable through their own Left-wing institutions, regardless of whether it is in the long-term best interests of the student, than they will ever admit.
But there’s another aspect to this too. As society has become more secular, we have become more used to relying on science and we lean on objective measurements. It’s comfortable to rely on and value intellect as it is something we can measure. However flawed they may be, IQ tests tell us something objective. The trouble is that everyone I know who has ever bragged about their IQ and/or Alma Mater has turned out to be a first rate twat.
And there’s the rub.
A massive downside of society becoming more secular, is that we have lost moral leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. (though they were often not religious leaders), and other people in public life who emphasised humane qualities and values. Nowadays “professional intellectuals” like Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson have huge followings despite striking me as crass, insensitive, and combative — whatever the merits of their work. Their fans often glory in their abrasive take downs of those with whom they disagree.
Human characteristics like kindness, warmth, empathy, humility, self-acceptance, integrity, good character, consideration for others, and humour, are things that can’t be measured and that poses a temptation, not just to employers, to pretend they don’t exist — but try having a work place or personal relationships without them!
Amongst my most intelligence acquaintances are:
A graduate of Oxford University who is banned from the state of China for committing impersonation and fraud. When I knew him, he was a corporate lawyer who liked to brag that he earnt the annual national minimum wage every month after taxes. This individual had a nasty habit of picking on the young women around him and bullying them until their self-worth was so diminished he could get whatever he wanted from them. Sometimes he didn’t even want anything, he would just do it for fun.
There was also a former prospective parliamentary candidate who I began chatting to the first time I went to a political party conference. I was so enamoured by her that I let her manipulate me to further her own ends just because I liked her and so valued her obvious intelligence and competence. I wilfully ignored that her and her partner had cruel nicknames for just about everyone in their immediate social circle and that she was manipulative, domineering, and only kind when it suited her. She was also obese thanks to a marijuana addiction she’d had in University. She didn’t seem to have any friends that she couldn’t use in some way. As soon as I refused to be used — I was no longer a friend.
Ah, and then there is the American Academic who used to like to go on “business trips” with younger male members of staff. Unbeknownst to these unsuspecting young men, he would only book a single room and tell them the hotel was — sadly — fully booked. A quick chat at the reception would soon reveal that to be a lie and another room would be hastily paid for on the company credit card to avoid a(nother?) lawsuit.
I have slowly deleted these people off my social media and out of my life. I don’t want to be around any of them for any part of my day.
Some of the smartest people I know have been amongst the most cruel, dysfunctional, manipulative and immoral. Some of the least academically able have been amongst the kindest, healthiest, righteous, and most decent. The huge emphasis contemporary society has placed on academisation has crowded out the other ways we measure human worth. If the definition of societal good is to build a meritocracy — I hope the definition of merit is broader than merely excelling in the IQ/career/qualifications arms race.
Thankfully, Martin Luther King Jr. left a sermon that can offer some guidance on this issue:
In this speech, King warns all who would listen that a desire for importance can lead to “snobbish exclusivism” — indeed!
One of the most frequent sh*tty reactions to sexual harassment stories in the Press, including but not limited to the #MeToo furore, is the inclination of some folks to sit back and say, “why are the victims only speaking up now?” In the minds of some people, a sexual crime is diminished if there is a lengthy period of time between the event happening and the victim speaking out.
This is totally irrational and rarely true for other crimes. If a murder was committed twenty years ago, and the murderer was still alive, no one would so much as hesitate to put them in prison.
To this, I plead for humanity and compassion to be shown towards alleged victims. Just because an incident of sexual harassment happened in the past does not mean an allegation is less valid, serious, or due process should be any less thorough. There is still stigma and shame attached to sexual crimes. Times change, but they don’t change quickly. Perpetrators aggressively try to discredit and silence their victims. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, the threat of actual violence appears to have been very real.
Sometimes the process of bringing people to justice may be so unpleasant, that vulnerable people come to conclusion that it’s just easier to move on from their experiences.
I have a great deal of empathy with victims of sexual harassment, having witnessed some particularly aggressive sexual harassment whilst working in politics both in the UK and USA. In the particular case I mention in the link above, the women I know pushed on every door they could to try and deal with their harasser, and only chose to start ‘speaking out’ publicly when every other option had been exhausted.
Unfortunately, I also empathise with victims of sexual harassment who fail to speak out because of something I witnessed as a child, and made the choice not to talk to anyone about it.
When I was sixteen, in the first year of my A-Levels, I was acting as a stage hand for a school play. The incident took place during a rehearsal. Behind the scenes, the stage was dark, and there weren’t many people around. Only present were a handful of other students and a couple of teachers milling about and minding their own business. I was carrying props back to their starting positions when I saw a male teacher touch a female student.
He had his hand on the back of her head and had pulled her closer to him. The touch looked like a caress. The female student did not seem phased by his attention. His face was close to hers — only just not close enough for them to be kissing. Once he saw me, he stood straight upright and let go of her. He looked alarmed. She didn’t turn around. I carried on walking.
I’ve thought about this incident many times in the past fifteen years — and the question I ask myself most often is this:
Why didn’t I speak out?
Here are the reasons — not excuses — I didn’t speak out, presented with no judgement.
I didn’t trust the adults around me to believe me and treat my word as more valid than/just as valid as that of a teacher’s word.
To this day I have serious questions about the integrity, sensitivity, and competence of the teacher’s at my secondary school for a plethora of reasons. I simply do not believe that I would have been considered a credible witness.
This teacher had also had cause (and I would say irrational cause at times) to discipline me over the course of my school career. I felt that this teacher really didn’t like me. I was worried that any allegation against him, however true, might be perceived as a vindictive act on my part.
To this day I am not sure what I saw.
What did I see? Was it sexual? Was it merely platonic/if somewhat misplaced affection? If it was sexual — Was it welcome? Was it exploitative? I have no idea what the nature of that incident was. I know that she was facing him and that he pulled her into him by the back of her hair. I don’t know anything else. It was dark. It wasn’t that dark. What exactly did I see? I don’t know. And I don’t feel like I can ask either of the other parties involved.
By the time my juvenile mind had processed the confusing thoughts and emotions surrounding the incident, it was too late.
By the time I came to the correct conclusion that a grown male teacher should not be touching an unrelated fourteen/fifteen year old girl in any way, the metaphysical statute of limitations on this act had passed. Rationally or irrationally, in mind, the “right time” had well and truly passed. I just inherently felt that any claim would be diminished because of the time that had passed between the act happening and me convincing myself that it, whatever it was, was wrong.
The teacher was popular. I was not.
Secondary school was the hardest phase of my life to date. I was neither popular with other students nor the teacher’s who considered me a trouble maker and a non-conformist. Despite being a more than able student, I struggled daily to conform to their ideals. I sensed that teacher’s wanted something from me and I just couldn’t fathom what the right answer ever was. Intellectually, physically, and emotionally: I was isolated and alone.
The teacher in question, however, was considered one of the “cool teachers”, he was generally well-liked by his colleagues and my peers. A lot of my peers considered him to be their “favourite” teacher. I have mutual friends with this teacher on Facebook, as he’s one of the rare few teachers a lot of my friends wanted to stay in touch with. I was intimidated by his likability and this added to my sense that I wouldn’t be believed.
Not speaking out was the easiest, simplest, best thing for me.
Without any certainty, I decided the most rational thing was to keep shtum (until telling a world of strangers on Medium fourteen/fifteen years later…). No consequences for them, but also no consequences for me. What if the encounter was sexual and welcome? Then she may have lied to protect him. Then it would be the word of two people against me. But by staying quiet there were no questions about my integrity. No being interviewed with a sceptical eye by teacher’s I already didn’t trust. No disruption to my own already troubled school career. No further isolation from my peers.
The trouble with not speaking out or dealing with sexual harassment at all, however, is it leaves the perpetrator free to carry on business-as-usual. Or worse — more confident in their faith that they will always be able to get away with their behaviour.
The consequences of me talking about this could have been that I destroyed someone’s career on a false assumption. I’m strangely confident that I did not let an aggressive paedophile get away with anything, and yet I still have enough doubts about wether or not I did the right thing to prompt me to write this article.
I know the names of both the people involved. I’ve looked them up on Facebook. We have mutual friends. Both of them appear to have fairly ordinary lives. If there’s anything haunting their consciences, they haven’t spoken about it either.
The purpose and message of this article is this: be kind to alleged victims, but also fight for due process. This is a world of shades of grey. Nothing about sexual harassment is black and white. I am someone who always thought they would be strong enough to speak out, but when I had cause to, I did not.
I know I would be strong enough to say something now, but I didn’t always have that strength.
To say that I’ve taken the news that Rick & Morty hasn’t been automatically renewed for another season badly is an understatement. It is easily my favourite animated show of recent years, blending great comedic story-telling with deep characters, without ever once insulting its audience’s intelligence.
If you’re not aware, Rick & Morty developed a cult-like following over only two seasons. How then, does a show like Rick & Morty — not only fail to get an instant renewal for another season— but doesn’t already have several seasons negotiated in advance?
Obviously, I don’t personally know any of the internal politics that must occur in industries like TV, but if these companies are serious about catering to the needs of their audiences, or even just serious about making money off of us, then surely renewing a hit-show, still very much in it’s prime, makes good sense on every level.
I can’t help shrug the feeling that if Rick & Morty wasn’t Science Fiction a hit show that popular would have been renewed already. Long gone are the substantial seasons of Sci-Fi shows like Star Trek of the pre-2000 days. In comparison: Firefly, a show that ran in 2002–2003 and which acted as a brilliant subversion of the tropes that Star Trek relied on, was cancelled painfully prematurely despite being hugely popular.
Sci-Fi shows just seem to get cancelled a lot quicker than other genres regardless of their popularity, quality, or merit.
There may be a reason for this:
In a paper published in the journal Scientific Study of Literature, Washington and Lee University professors Chris Gavaler and Dan Johnson set out to measure how identifying a text as Science Fiction makes readers automatically assume it is less worthwhile, in a literary sense, and thus devote less effort to reading it.
“Converting the text’s world to Science Fiction dramatically reduced perceptions of literary quality, despite the fact participants were reading the same story in terms of plot and character relationships.”
Although this research applies to literature, I believe it applies to other forms of fiction too.
In comparing The Simpsons and Futurama we have the best like-to-like comparison of a TV show set in a contemporary setting to a show set in a Sci-Fi setting that I can find. The shows share a creator (Matt Groening), their animation, and other similarities in writing, tone, and characterisation. Yet, the Fox Broadcasting Company cancelled Futurama after four engaging seasons but has let the once superlative Simpsons marathon into an excruciating level of mediocrity over the course of twenty-nine (plus?) seasons. Why would two shows, so alike in quality, be treated so differently?
I believe the reason for that is because a Sci-Fi bias exists.
Science Fiction is assumed to be sh*t before it proves that it’s good. Everything else is assumed to be good before it proves otherwise. The genre is not treated equally in the realm of television, or other forms of fiction.
But it should be.
Like Fantasy, Sci-Fi can do something contemporary fiction just can’t do quite so well. Sci-Fi puts ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, locations and settings. The tendency of fiction based in a contemporary setting is to put extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances. For me this will just never be as satisfying a way of exploring the human condition through storytelling.
Science Fiction definitely does one thing better than any other genre, which is to hold up a mirror to trends in the present to see where the choices we make today might lead. This is truly invaluable.
So although with Sci-Fi you may have to suspend your disbelief more than you anticipated and its fans at Comi-Con may seem a little strange, don’t underestimate the value works of Sci-Fi can offer.
And if you could stop cancelling my favourite shows — that’d be great too!
I am not the first to have criticised the “cult of positivity” phenomenon. I am, however, still surprised at how many cling onto the “always be positive” mantra and how badly supposedly ‘negative’ people are perceived in their professional and personal lives. We’re still expected to always be chipper in our work places and in our intimate relationships. I am really hoping this attitude becomes more muted, as not only are there times when negativity is warranted, but negative attitudes and emotions are often valuable. They’re not pleasant, but just because something is unpleasant doesn’t make it worthless. I will even admit that negative attitudes and emotions are usually not productive, but they are still strong signals that something is bad or wrong and we should address the cause of what’s making us feel so bad. The “always be positive” message is a pernicious lie.
There are always things outside your control.
Having enjoyed a relatively happy, supportive family life growing up, I was empowered by the people around me — especially my mother — to believe that I “could do anything I set [my] mind to” and if I was failing at something I just needed to work harder and put more positive energy into my projects.
The trouble with this message is that sometimes hard work doesn’t always yield the success you want in the way you want it to. This is especially true when there are other people involved. You don’t necessarily know how hard your competitors are working, and sometimes they outwork you. Sometimes you fail even though you work as hard as you possibly can and you work harder than anyone else. No matter how positive or optimistic you are about your projects, you still may fail and that’s okay.
When it comes to giving kids life lessons, the message should be altered to this: “Working hard doesn’t always get you what you want; but not working hard always yields nothing.”
In my personal intimate relationships, I truly believed that if I just worked hard at them and was the best partner I could possibly be, that I would have the successful, fulfilling relationships I craved. I was subsequently surprised when my relationships failed despite having done everything within my control to better their quality.
In times of failure, the “always be positive” mantra can become a type of victim blaming. In a world where we tell people that the only thing that matters is attitude, failure is assumed to be the fault of a bad attitude.
“Oh, you failed, did you? Well, that’s because you weren’t positive enough.”
That’s a nasty thing to presume about someone who may have done everything right and been thwarted by factors outside of his or her control.
Negative emotions are healthy reactions to bad things.
Being sad when a bad thing happens to you is a natural, healthy response to a bad thing happening to you. Apprehension and fear are natural reactions to risky, dangerous situations. Denying or repressing negative emotions can seriously jeopardise your wellbeing.
I went through a phase in my mid-twenties where I really tried to adopt a ‘positive mindset’ believing that this small internal change would reap large external benefits. This was the first move towards a personal and professional downward spiral.
Professionally, this simply lead me to biting off more than I could chew and the inevitable burnout this will always entail. Had I worked on my projects (at this time I was producing my own theatre show amongst other things) more slowly, and cautiously, several things would have happened:
I would not have run out of money so quickly. I would have put less pressure on my team and myself to produce output. I would not have rushed projects that needed more time. I would have gained more experience and tested the output more thoroughly before presenting this output to public. I would have built up my professional relationships over a longer period of time.
But because of my ‘Pollyanna’ style attitude to life, I didn’t believe that I would fail whether I rushed my projects or not. I was thinking positively — what could possibly go wrong? Putting a positive spin on everything in your life, even things that require serious, considered risk analysis and careful project planning, is dumb. It’s like not buying car insurance because you think you’re a good driver who won’t crash. It’s reckless and delusional.
In my personal life, this delusion led me straight into the most unhealthy and damaging relationship I have ever had. So many aspects of this particular relationship were wrong:
The way he rushed me into physical intimacy. His lack of consideration for my feelings and needs. The way he felt entitled to intimacy. The way he demanded the intimacy be on his terms and on his terms alone. His disregard for my physically well-being. His subtle bullying and belittlement. The fact that he allowed his friends to bully me by proxy. The way he abandoned me in unsafe parts of North London, and on several occasions invited me out with him but then made me wait for him for hours at a time. The fact that a few months since the start of the relationship, he appeared to be a very different person from the one I had started dating.
All these things left me with a considerable feeling of unease about the whole relationship. These negative feelings in my gut were telling me something was wrong. Yet, because I was so determined to make my relationship a success, I put a positive spin on everything. I believed my positive energy would make the relationship a success. I should have run like the f*cking wind from this walking, talking, physical embodiment of a red-flag, but my steadfast commitment to being a positive, happy, ‘low-maintenance’ girlfriend made me stay until I could tolerate his oh-so subtle belittlement and cruelty no longer.
At no point in my sheltered upbringing, had anyone told me that predators often disguise themselves as prey; that effete, Middle Class intellectuals are just as capable of exploitation, degradation and cruelty as anyone one else. My negative feelings were the only things that were telling me to get away from this person, and I deliberately disregarded them, pouring positive energy and commitment into this unhealthy romantic relationship instead.
It was only when I acknowledged the unpleasant realities of my situation, admitted to myself that I was deeply unhappy, and then did the right thing — even though it was incredibly painful in the short term — did my life finally start to improve again.
If you’re trying to be a better person, don’t forget that your negative emotions are part of you too. Though they’re not pretty; they may be the most useful tools you have.
Last year I published my debut collection of poetry, Love Crimes.
I have been writing poetry since I was thirteen years old and the collection marked my first real attempt at professional literary output. Love Crimes is an assembly of all the best romantic poetry I had written up to that point, and I intend to follow it with a collection made up of my nature poetry.
After I had painstakingly self-published the collection, burning through two self-publishing companies in the process, I took what I thought was the next logical step: having the book reviewed. It took me almost a year to get to the point where I had the money to have this done. My 9–5 is lucrative enough to keep myself alive without struggling, but I don’t often have spare money for my hobbies.
Creative people are cursed with a type of boundless optimism that makes them carry on in the face of rejection, and keep creating despite all reasonable and logical notions that their time and energy might be better spent elsewhere. It was with this boundless optimism that I submitted Love Crimes to several review sites including Kirkus.
Even though I had braced myself for the possibility that I would not receive a favourable review, most reviews that claim to be objective are balanced, exploring the good and the bad. On receiving the review, I was startled and upset to realise that it was not only an almost entirely negative review, but it was one of the worst reviews I’ve ever read on the Kirkus site.
So what do you do when you read one of the worst reviews of a poetry collection — and it belongs to you? Here are the main things I told myself to cope:
1. People experience and interpret art through an infinite number of lenses. Your writing can not look good through each and every lens.
The first thing that came as a surprise to me is how different my narrative voice comes across than how it was intended to come across. What I thought were my own tender, whispered words of love and sensuality were interpreted as “screaming loudly” and an “aggressive cry for narrative attention”. Though it has come as a great shock that my work was interpreted this way, as with all art, all interpretations are valid in some sense. It never ceases to amaze me how the same work can be interpreted so differently by other people.
It’s not just a case of people liking different stuff. Some art is relevant to some and irrelevant to others on an emotional level. After this review, I suspect this collection is only relevant to a narrower band of readers than I had initially thought it would be e.g. people who share emotional experiences with me.
On that note, however…
2. Other artists produce similar work and people love it.
One point made by the critic in this review is: “…readers with no affinity for confessional poetry will feel as though the speaker is trying to take them into the specificities of a state of mind that they have no investment in…”
This is a surprisingly subjective opinion to express in a review. I don’t think this is at all valid for all readers. Not only do many readers have an affinity for confessional poetry, you don’t need to be personally invested in an artist or even know them to empathise with them or appreciate their art.
For example, you don’t have to have cheated on your girlfriend and knocked up your girl on the side to appreciate Usher’s Confessions. Despite having never got my girlfriend pregnant (lacking the necessary genitals, or inclination, to do such a thing) I can appreciate the pathos, pain, and the predicament explored in Usher’s music. I do not even like rap music all that much, but I love Usher’s Confessions.
Confessional art is common and popular.
3. a) There are plenty of bad reviews of the writing I like and good reviews of the writing I hate.
I am not alone in feeling like my artistic tastes are out of step with critics. My least favourite book of last year possesses a Kirkus star, and my favourite does not. I’m not sure why I was so certain my own work would suit the tastes of critics when the work I have an affinity with does not.
3.b) All lot of classic art was critically slammed before it became classic art.
After I first read the review of my work, I must confess that I spent a lot of time Googling successful authors who were derided by critics before they made it big. Not only was I surprised at how many classic novels were slammed, but I was shocked by the visceral dislike they provoked.
It is always wise to remember that the gatekeepers of the literary industry: critics, agents, and publishers, are not omnipotent.
4. The same art may have been received or described differently had it been written by someone else.
Whilst I’m not deluded enough to think that the reviewer would have lauded my collection more highly if I were a man… I do believe that had I been a male writer or used a male pseudonym, my poetry might not have been described as “screaming loudly” or as an “aggressive cry for narrative attention”, in the same way men are never called “bossy”.
5. It’s better to create writing that people either strongly love or strongly hate than writing no one feels anything strongly about — or worse — no writing at all.
Creating art is the hardest thing to do. You’re trying to hit a target no one can see. You are the vanguard of your own work. Write for yourself and satisfy yourself with the process of creating the work you want to create. Critics be damned! Even if the critics are right and your work really is shit, there’s no shame in failing at something this hard to do.
Once I abandoned the milquetoast stuff I wrote to please other people I became much more successful as a writer (more able to complete long and short works of writing to a publishable standard). My own lack of enthusiasm for the work I was creating meant I lost my own momentum. Once I focussed on creating the work I utterly loved the words flowed through my keyboard so much easier, though I knew in making this choice I would be creating work that was more likely to split an audience.
The process is painful, but artistic output is valuable and we all know that it’s a damn sight more satisfactory than our 9–5s. It’s what makes us human and it’s what distinguishes ‘living’ from merely ‘existing’.
I hope none of you ever lose the boundless optimism that drives people like us to make art.
Be brave, fellow writers! Go forth and create.
One of my favourite things to do is to read the negative reviews of books I hate on Goodreads and Amazon. This is as much for pleasure as for genuine market research — especially for books that are notorious such as the Twilight franchise. One of the most common criticisms I’ve seen of such books is that they are merely wish fulfilment literature, where the desires and fantasies of the authors are enacted and satisfied through the stories they write. Often wish fulfilment literature is dismissed as lazy. I think that is a valid criticism in many cases but we should not automatically deny works of merit their deserved praise even if they have characteristics of wish fulfilment literature.
Some “literature” deserves the criticism. The Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey franchises come to mind instantly. Though that doesn’t mean those types of books don’t have their place. I consider the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise to owe a great deal to the failure of both Harlequin and explicit erotica publishers to anticipate upcoming trends and market their books properly. Unsurprisingly both Harlequin and erotica publishers have changed their marketing strategies in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey’s success.
The reason we must not dismiss wish fulfilment literature entirely is that books such as the Harry Potter franchise, or even the Chronicles of Narnia, are just as much wish fulfilment literature as Twilight. The Harry Potter franchise may not be wish fulfilment on the part of the author, I’ve no doubt JK Rowling does not want to be an eleven-year-old boy, but it is undoubtedly wish fulfilment on the part of the readers. What child wouldn’t want to wake up one day and be told that there’s something about them that makes them different from other children and that they’re going to a magical school? What ordinary children wouldn’t want to find a magical kingdom in the back of a wardrobe?
What makes Harry Potter different from Twilight, however, is the awesomeness of the wish. Going to a wizarding school and conquering evil is a much more interesting wish than getting a good-looking paranormal boyfriend who’s infatuated with you even though you’re a thoroughly average looking person. Especially as Stephenie Meyer’s interpretation of what vampires are has nullified many of the undesirable vampiric traits found in works such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And as for Fifty Shades? There are actual billionaires alive today more interesting than Christian Grey. Fantasy that pales in comparison to reality, is not good fantasy.
Since a great deal of good Fantasy and Sci-Fi does contain desirable wish fulfilment elements it would be unwise of authors to not be aware of how it can be used successfully. Wish fulfilment is a feature that can make literature incredibly satisfying. The cases where the quality of literature declines are the cases where wish fulfillment is the only feature of that respective work. This is where the accusations of lazy writing ring true. It’s also a wasted opportunity. The great thing about literature is that you can have mundane everyday wishes, like getting a rich, handsome boyfriend, fulfilled and go on a swashbuckling adventure as well. Indeed, in extraordinary settings, the presence of mundane wishes and desires can add realism to otherwise improbable characters.
I know what I prefer to read and write.