A couple of months back, I did a post about taste. But when I did it I was thinking more about readers than writers. Now, I don’t talk about this much, but I do actually write a lot (I know, what a surprise, the book blogger writes 😉 ) and I’ve thought an awful lot about what it can be like navigating the landmine of opinion pieces on what you should and shouldn’t write. I don’t know about you, but I personally think there’s a helluva lot of confusing advice out there, mostly of people telling others what to do according to their own taste. There’s a lot of “DON’T WRITE X”, “WRITE MORE Y”, “DON’T WRITE Z UNLESS YOU ARE Z”. In truth, I find it somewhat exhausting, especially since my view is pretty much write whatever the hell you like. To clarify, I’m not telling writers to ignore criticism (errr yeah, do that at your own peril I guess) and I’m not telling reviewers not to review (this is not me hanging up the bananas!!!), merely suggesting that sometimes a lot of the forceful generalisations are more a matter of taste. And I think some people would be well served if they knew that- which is why I decided to devise a list of instructions… on how to not take instructions (that made so much more sense inside my head). Here’s some of the ways you can avoid falling into the my-personal-taste-is-better-than-yours trap:
Don’t try to people please. I know a lot of people go into it wanting validation from millions of people- however the thing is even if you get to be a bestseller, there will be people who hate your work. It’s a sad fact of life. One thing I’ve noticed whenever I do some piece where I talk about what I don’t like, like my least favourite fantasy tropes, is that someone will read what I’ve written and be discouraged. I always want to tell people that I am just one person and while I’m not going to pretend I’m into things I’m not interested in, there are plenty of other bookworms out there who I’m sure will love it. This is something I try to do with my own work, because honestly I don’t see the point in pushing my writing on people who will hate it- that’s a road to ruin! So fly your freak flag and write whatever you like- just don’t make demands or be insulted if people don’t want to read your work.
Don’t try to do “paint by numbers” writing- I see a lot of people breaking down *exactly* how they think a novel should work. And while there’s a lot of good advice there, take it with a pinch of salt. Cos I’ve read some of the books based on those standards and yeesh– they’re boring. Again, this is my personal take, yet there’s no easy instruction manual when it comes to writing. Be prepared to mess up and to fail, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Incidentally, one way to get round this problem is…
Do read lots of books– I mean this is a no brainer, but I always have to put it in because there are still writers who say they don’t read and GAH I CAN’T EVEN! That said…
Don’t worry too much about being original– or being too original for that matter. I kind of wrote this one for me, because I have a freakout about this on a regular basis to be fair. But it’s silly, because, to use the corniest quote in the world “there’s nothing new under the sun”. I think it’s important to strike a balance- don’t be afraid to do something different, but don’t worry too much if something’s been done before. There are always those who will like either or both!
Do understand that there are different writing styles and that *it’s okay* to employ one of the less popular ones. This is probably one of the issues of taste I see around the most and have been trying to address this for a while with my “differences in style” series (okay not recently, but I hope to rectify that soonish). I find a lot of people favour particular styles and then turn them into *universal rules*- which only work for said style. One of the best ways to combat this is to know about a variety of different techniques, so you can deliberately choose the best ones from your arsenal, rather than being subject to the whims of fashion or personal opinion.
Don’t get bogged down by pedants. Again, this comes from some criticism I see about a lot and usually comes down to things like specific word choice in world building. An example of this could be the widespread criticism of the word “hell” in Zenith, because it was space fantasy (which I personally didn’t agree with, since it was written in English and as one of the critiques said “every culture has an idea of hell”). We all have things that bug us, and that’s fine, we can’t help having pet peeves- however as okay as it is for someone to critique a word choice, I wouldn’t take it too much to heart.
Don’t steer clear of controversial content (aka “don’t listen to moral busybodies”). We all have our personal limits and every individual has content they don’t want to read, however, there are also people who take this one step further and say “my personal taste is more important than your art”. For instance, I have seen people saying things like “I object to the book because it has such and such theme”. Again, this is not to say you shouldn’t critique it, in whatever terms you like, yet it’s not a good reason to avoid writing about what you want. Even if it doesn’t resonate with one person, someone else will like it.
Do worry about your own personal experience- and don’t get bogged down in trying to make it universal for everyone. This is very similar to the last one, because I know there are a lot of people who will tell you “ah but it didn’t speak to *my* experience”. Well, I hate to break it to that hypothetical person: there are billions of other people on the planet. The idea that a book has to speak to every single individual experience is frankly absurd. The only reason to get offended is if you commissioned said book as a biography 😉 If you’re concerned that it’s not going to be “real” for everyone… good news, it’s not real! So this kind of goes back to #1- it’s not worth seeking validation from everyone. As cheesy as it is, you’re not writing for everybody, you’re writing for you.
And that’s all I have for now. I have a few more personal ones, but I thought I’d leave it there, or I wouldn’t be speaking to a universal experience- JK! 😉 Do you agree or disagree with any of these? And do you have any other ideas to add to this list? Let me know in the comments!