Hmm... what about people who don't have parents? I mean, I've lost mine at a young age (my mom died when I was 9 and my dad when I was 19). :/
I do get the point of not letting the existence of relatives who may be embarrassed by your work interrupt your writing, but the actual lack of parents doesn't work for me. I do think about what anyone I know ever think about me if and when I ever publish something I wrote. I still have self doubts, so perhaps a theoretical loss of parents has one more benefit over the actual loss...
Jason, I enjoyed writing in high school and had a teacher, Mr. Roache, who was very supportive and thought I was a writer. So, of course, I ended up going to law school like your father wanted you to do. More years later than I care to count, I've gone back to writing fiction, though, truth be told, as a lawyer there are many who would say I've been writing fiction for my entire career.
I think your advice is excellent and, thinking back on it, I've always written as if my parents are not around. My approach has been to write what I think are interesting stories. As the song says, you can't please everyone, so you might as well please yourself.
I've got a short comic story that's been accepted for publication and will see print in, what I hope, is the not to distant future. I've got a couple of other irons in the fire as well and, whether or not anything ever comes of them, I'm having a blast.
We were told to avoid sci-fi or fantasy or any particularly involved genre, because a 15 page short story isn't the place to build and entire world. I kinda disagreed, but, what could you do.
I had one English teacher in high school who allowed me to write science fiction stories. All of the other creative writing classes and such I have been in don't consider genre work "real" fiction. Even some of the sf or fantasy groups I have been involved in expect you to write The Lord of the Rings over and over again. Dealing with such a narrow focus taught me to do three things:
1. Build a world in 15-pages or less. Or at least leave the reader with the impression that there is a much bigger world beyond the story
2. Sneak genre fiction in among the mainstream stuff. This works especially well if you have any familiarity with or formal education in science and you know that most of the people in your writing group don't.
3. Don't psychoanalyse other people in the writing group based on their Mary Sue characters. Because the results are just too frightening. Authors are not their characters.
I'm still working on the "write like your parents are dead" part. I have dozens of stories in my "archive" that I don't dare finish or show to anyone because I am worried that they would think I am insane.
Incidentally, my first book should be published by the end of the year and I have a proposal for another one in the works.
One should never hold something back from writing for fear of ridicule or fear that your parents will be horrified. However, one should always keep the audience in mind, even if it's a general vague, Platonic ideal of "audience."
Writing for your own head only leads to lots of "but it makes sense to me!" excuses when readers wind up not appreciating or understanding your work. Unless it's an art project not intended for wide consumption, a writer has to work with the audience to make sure everyone is along for the ride and enjoying themselves.
I swear I was thinking about this not one hour ago, before I'd even been on here at all today. Weird. I was thinking 'my writing would be so much better if I didn't constantly think "what would so-and-so think?"'. And 'so-and-so' largely = my parents. Such a pest! It's very frustrating, and it's a hard thing to do to get that nagging thought out of your head. I haven't yet managed to write like my parents were dead, ever.
"We're supposed to be heroes -- but we never really make things better. We have no lasting effect on people -- or the world."
I did a creative writing class over a summer at the local community college. We'd get some small yet specific guidance from our teacher and were told to write. Our "capstone" was a 10 pager for the class to read/critique and I ended up being the second person to write. After I finished my first story--about a breakup, a li'l too autobiographical--I scrapped it, wrote a second one about integrity--was more fun than it sounds--cracked an inside joke at my own expense about the first story, and gave the prof a copy of it when I read the second. I've never had that much fun in a class (plus as it was a summer course, I had plenty of time to really focus on it). I can't recommend creative writing enough to anyone interested.
Great article Jason, wish it was on the interwebs 6 years ago!
I've never really had a problem with the writing of things I wouldn't want my dad to read, but I've held back on the publishing of them, and that's been a huge mistake. Part of the hesitation was because of other factors, like wanting to get things out in the right way in the right order at just the right time, but the fear of What Will People Think has also haunted me, especially living (and trying to work for a living) in a community where "irreverent" and "challenging" are considered bad things.
Lately I've decided: fuck it. So for the past few months I've been publishing a little story I wrote several years ago about the aborted-but-resurrected fetus of the Virgin Mary. Next week sees the beginning of the online serialization of a superhero/religion parody I wrote and even paid an artist to illustrate five whole years ago, but it was something that my dad wouldn't approve of, and we were at a point where I was trying to reconcile with him, and god forbid anyone at my day job ever see it... blah blah blah. I've been sitting on it.
In the meantime, I've become too old to be thought of as any kind of "hot young writer", the day jobs I've been protecting have become less and less worth keeping, and dear old Dad is never going to be proud of me (respect is the best I can hope for). So I'm now throwing caution to the wind. It's too early for me to know whether the advice in this essay will turn out to be good for me or not, but it certainly matches what I've come to believe.
(Both of the stories mentioned above can be found by visiting HolyComics.com)
I am probably my harshest critic. I don't tend to read a lot of fiction anymore (apart from comic books) I just find that it doesn't hold my attention anymore. So my first rule of thumb when writing a story is 'would I invest my time in reading this?'
Originally Posted by spiderrmonkey
I tell my students that they can write in any genre they like as long as the plot is interesting and revealing and the characters are "real" people.
How is a writing class "not the time or place" for fantasy or sci-fi, if that's the sort of setting you want to use? Is your writing teacher seriously suggesting that someone can't write something just as deep, meaningful, personal, or literary using a setting they've created from whole cloth as basing things in a historical or real world setting? That's a good 50% or so of Neil Gaiman's output he's dismissed for a start.
I took a creative writing class during my degree at one of Britain's most respect universities in that field. I wrote a short play about mythological characters living together and experiencing various breakdowns. I got a first (not sure if you have those in America, an A+ grade). Is it seriously suggested that in fact that class, where I succeeded to a greater level than my others, was "not the time or place" for writing what I wanted to write and enjoyed writing?
Most creative writing professors will steer you towards general fiction with no supernatural, sci-fi, or fantasy elements. Aaron did not specifically say that's what should happen, as he said. When I teach Creative Writing, I support and and guide students through any genre they want; I just give the basics in the beginning.
I loved this article. Jason Aaron, I hope you don't mind that I'd use your columns as texts for my class, would you?