I probably spend too much time reading about writing. I don’t even want to hash over all the blogs I’ve read with tips and advice about the importance of satisfying the reader’s expectations, what readers of various genres want to read, what words never to use, what editors say behind the backs of authors who refuse to follow the rules. I thought this one by Will Weisser was going to be more of the same. But, it surprised me. His essential point is that it’s more important to write whatever we write well, than to begin with original ideas, because, in their hearts, most people want familiarity more than originality. So put a little originality into your writing, but not too much.
This went a long way to explaining for me why people are so obsessed with genre. I had previously guessed it was mostly a marketing ploy to benefit publishers. But the familiarity angle gives me an insight into why readers go along with it. Personally, the more genre-specific a work appears to be, the less appealing I find it, the less likely I would be to purchase it. I like to be surprised. I like weird things that are impossible to categorize, that require the reader to redraw the lines and boundaries that define our thinking. And, even as I read the post, I was thinking, well, that’s probably useful for some people, but I’m going to continue writing what I want to write, with total disregard for what readers want, and no particular effort to be either original or conventional. Everybody can take it or leave it. Truly, that’s probably the best way to get to what I myself would like to read.
Then Weisser did something that I appreciated. He acknowledged that his advice isn’t necessarily for everyone.
“Please don’t interpret this article as me encouraging people to defy their own artistic sensibilities for the sake of sales. If your ideas have rarely or never been done before and that’s the book you want to write, then go for it. But you can still be aware of humanity’s propensity for familiarity and use that to understand your audience: you’re aiming for the experimental noise-rock listeners, not the people that listen to Justin Bieber. On one hand, there’s a lot less of the former than the latter, but on the other, if you can find those core fans and really speak to what they crave, you may find yourself with a truly devoted fanbase. After all, there’s so little out there for a true novelty-seeker to enjoy.”
Did I mention that my husband plays in an experimental noise-rock band? (Well, I don’t know that they would call themselves that, they’re kind of hard to categorize.) Frontier will be playing at South By Southwest in Austin this week, and on Saturday at Valley of the Vapors festival in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Here’s a little noise to up the weird factor for your day.
Update: Here’s a mellower one for evening listening. Note the hands-off-the-instruments style.
Frontier at SXSW