Everyone makes mistakes—even writers—but that’s OK because each mistake is a great learning opportunity. The Writer’s Digest team has witnessed many mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them early in the process. Note: The mistakes in this series aren’t focused on grammar rules, though we offer help in that area as well.
(Grammar rules for writers.)
Rather, we’re looking at bigger picture mistakes and mishaps, including the error of using too much exposition, neglecting research, or trying to write for everyone. This week’s writing mistake writers make is letting other people shame your genre.
I was in middle school when the original Star Wars movies were re-released and I immediately fell in love. Mostly I fell in love with Harrison Ford as Han Solo, but I also loved the universe and the epic good vs. evil battle. After that, every time I went to a bookstore I picked up a new Star Wars book and read them all. I was the kid who always brought a pleasure-reading book to school just in case I got bored and during that time period, I’d frequently take whatever Star Wars book I was reading. But if you ask anyone from that period of my life, not a single person would know that—because I hid them.
I hid the Star Wars books inside another book—a textbook, a different pleasure book, whatever—because I couldn’t stop reading them but didn’t want anyone to know what I was reading. (Looking back, I may not have done a great job of hiding them…) My middle-school desire to fit in made me feel ashamed of this thing that I loved and gave me pleasure. And let me be clear, no one actually shamed me or in any way commented on what I was reading. It was all in my head.
In the many years since then, I’ve become an ardent believer that no one should be shamed for what brings them joy (with the obvious exception being unless it hurts someone else). “Guilty” pleasures shouldn’t exist; they should just be pleasures. Recently on Twitter, I saw a Tweet with a picture of a romance novel cover that featured a shirtless man, and the person was asking who would dare read that book in public. The replies came in fast and furious with example after example of bestselling romance novels with similar covers and people saying they have read those books in public. They didn’t let someone shame them for enjoying what they love. Romance novels with shirtless men on the cover may not be for everyone (clearly they didn’t appeal to the poster of the Tweet), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t for someone. Or a lot of someones.
If you go into the writing process knowing that—that your writing won’t be for everyone—it’s a lot easier to not feel shame about it and to instead choose to write what makes you happy. So when you’re making the choice about what direction your manuscript should go, what genre to venture into next, what monsters or love story or outlandish subplot to include, make those decisions based on what brings you joy and excitement. Sure, if you plan to publish, you’ll need to think about certain market considerations for what’s selling or what works for the characters. But your considerations should never be about what other people—whether that’s your family, friends, co-workers, or the random person on the internet—find shameful or silly. If you want to separate your writing from your other profession, do what Stacey Abrams did and write under a pen name (check out Selena Montgomery).
At the end of the day, you only get one life to life (hello, cliché!) so if you’re going to write, it should be something that you enjoy spending time on. No one gets to live your life for you, so don’t let anyone shame you out of writing what you want to write, or reading what you want to read.
Learn to write women’s fiction in this Writer’s Digest University course with Terri Valentine. Find out more here.