As a writer, I try to do my best. I always work to improve my writing, to learn new strategies and techniques, and to make every book I write my best. But great writing isn’t something that can be developed by reading about it and studying other writers–mostly it comes from experience. This leads to a problem. What point is there to even begin writing if you know it’s not going to be great? What if you never even reach greatness? Worse yet, what if you become one of those trashy pulp authors who settles for less?
A struggling writer told me recently that he was having trouble motivating himself after reading through some successful books that were written as little more than cheap genre fiction. Why struggle to be great at all when mediocre gets raved about all the time? Does “bad” writing have a place for aspiring authors?
Once at a seminar I heard a writer say that if you settle for always or nothing when it comes to writing, you’ll get nothing every time. I’ve heard others say that if you want to write good fiction, you need to give yourself permission to write rotten fiction. Even as a writing exercise, I’ve found fan fiction and genre cliches can actually be helpful ways to focus on other, more intricate aspects of my writing. If I already have a good typical guideline for a cliche story, then I can write the story easily and focus on the aspects that I’ve been struggling with–character development, plot unification, etc.
What about writing cheap fiction full time? Personally, it’s earned me quite a bit of money over the past few months, even though my genre fiction isn’t nearly as well thought out as my more serious novels. The truth is, people like cheap fiction. Why? It’s fun to read. Even if everything in a given book has already happened far too many times for its own good, there’s probably still an audience out there who wants to see it happen at least one more time. And, honestly, it’s fun to write. It’s easy and laid-back, and not nearly as overwhelming as more serious fiction can be.
So what’s the point of even trying to be more serious? Why bother being great at all? For one thing, greatness lasts. A good book might be very popular for a few years, but a great book will last centuries. Great writing is more universal and less specialized–it enriches the human experience while shedding light on new issues and experiences. That being said, it’s more daunting for people to read or write. But when done, it’s also much, much more rewarding.
In short, you need to give yourself permission to write bad fiction–but you also need to constantly strive to give your writing something more, to rise above where you already are. All levels of writing have their audiences and their place. The important thing is simply to realize the differences in those places and see stories for what they are–a rewarding and entertaining human experience.