New week. New skull. I’ll try to make it relevant at some point during the post. But probably not.
Years ago, after I’d finished the first draft of my first book, I took a respite from writing. It didn’t last long, but I needed it…badly. I’d just completed a novel spanning a half-million words, and my fingers were tired. You think I’m kidding. I’m dead serious. I was bone-weary in the way only three years of living in a word-dungeon can produce. For a span of a few weeks afterward, I thought, “I’m done. I’ve finished it. I need do nothing more.” I didn’t understand that my journey had only just begun.
During my miniature exile, I didn’t lie in bed with a stupid, self-satisfied smile. I had no laurels, and even if I would’ve, I wouldn’t have rested on them. I wasn’t really content with having finished a book. My brain thought I was done, but my heart knew better. So rather than sleep on my small success, I found other ways to pass the time. I did homework, so to speak, searching the web and pestering my already-published friends for tidbits of wisdom. How am I gonna get this damn thing published? I asked anyone who would listen. What about editing? A half-million words is way too many; how am I gonna fix that? What? Why? When?
Thus began my first assault on the realm of publishing. I gathered my troops (me) and started researching in earnest. I would finish this thing I’d started, the world be damned. I decided I’d sooner become the mummy in this week’s pic (see, told you) than give up. And so, after two weeks of learning, unlearning, and sharpening my sword for the world’s throat, it all came down to: What the hell have I written? How am I planning on marketing this thing? What category is my novel? What neat little box does my life’s obsession fit into?
Well, the publishing world asked, what’s your answer?
Did I write fiction? (Yes)
Is it epic? (Yes)
Sci-Fi? (A little)
Young-Adult (How would I know?)
Chick-Lit (WTF is this category anyway??)
Bisexual Vampire Steampunk (Huh?)
Before I began answering these questions, I’d no idea about all these categories. A book was a book was a book. The only two divisions were fiction and non-fiction, or so I’d believed. The concept that I needed to refine my work into a neat little genre box was foreign…and mildly offensive. I didn’t understand. I was confused. I was angry.
After being clobbered with the inevitable: We like your work, J. But it’s too long to publish, especially for a rookie. Define it into a clear genre and carve about three hundred-thousand words out, and we’ll talk, I decided to crawl back into my cave. I rewrote my first book…twice. I tapped out one sequel, then another, and then a prequel, and…you get the idea. I took a long hiatus from caring about categories, blurbs, agents, double-agents, and query letters. I stopped giving a rat’s ass about the notion of genres. I allowed myself to be as free as I had been while writing Down the Dark Path. And soon enough the words began to flow again.
When asked what they like to read, most people will give you a few authors’ names or a short list of their favorite books. Most won’t sit down and say, “I only read YA Dystopian novels with surfing sub-themes, and nothing else.” Even so, I know a lot of writers who decide what genre they’re going to write in before they actually write it. Maybe it’s just me, but that approach feels manufactured. Readers might benefit from cracking open a book whose genre they’re oblivious to. Writers will definitely benefit from letting the words flow sans inhibition. While it’s true eventually every published book will end up in a tightly-defined category, I believe it’s in readers’ best interest to ignore these categories, and writers’ to write without worrying about what the publishing world will call their masterpiece.
Because, let’s face it, most of us don’t write because we want to make tons of money doing it (Hint: we’re probably not going to.) We write because we find it compelling, tortuous, wonderful, terrifying, and everything in-between. It’s the same experience readers go through. Don’t try to define it. Don’t put shackles on it and lock it in a box. Let it be what it is: beautiful. Agonize over the details afterward.