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March 4, 2010

The Party Is Here on the (north)West Side...

Kate Hart
Cory has entitled her March blog series "How Writers Do It: A Writing Process Series." As a good friend and aspiring professional, I am trying very! hard! to be serious! But mostly I'm singing Montell Jordan in my head. Because...
the party is here on the west side... (this is how we do it) ...to all my neighbors you got much flavor (this is how we do it)... let's flip the track, bring the old school back...

ahem.

So mid-90s hip hop notwithstanding, Cory wants to know what Stephen King has to say about writers as artists, particularly genre writers. Genre writing is the main part of the question that King addresses: Early in On Writing, he recounts an episode in which a teacher busted him for selling copies of a horror story at school.

"'What I don't understand, Stevie,' she said, 'is why you'd write junk like this in the first place. You're talented. Why do you want to waste your abilities?'... to her credit, the question was not entirely rhetorical, but I had no answer to give. I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since-- too many, I think-- being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that's all."

But now, if you disapprove of his genre? "I can only shrug my shoulders," he says. "It's all I have." What would be wrong, King says,
"...is to turn away from what you know and like (or love...) in favor of things you believe will impress your friends, relatives, and writing-circle colleagues. What's equally wrong is the deliberate turning toward some genre or type of fiction in order to make money. It's morally wonky, for one thing-- the job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story's web of lies, not to commit intellectual dishonesty in the hunt for a buck."
A real writer doesn't rifle through story ideas like "various stock options, picking out the ones which seems most likely to provide a good return." When people ask why he chooses to write what he does, King thinks there erroneously is at the center of that question "the assumption that the writer controls the material instead of the other way around."

Which begs the question. Is this how Montell Jordan does it? Let's examine his lyrics, shall we?
"Once upon a time in '94
Montell made no money and life was slow
All they said was 6'8" he stood
And people thought the music he made was good
There lived a D.J. and Paul was his name
He came up to Monty and this is what he said
You and OG are gonna make some cash
Sell a million records and we'll make in a dash."

I dunno. By his own admission, it sounds like Montell was more interested in the million records than making art. But if he calls himself an artist, am I going to argue with him? No. I'm the dork in Northwest Arkansas using his lyrics as blog post titles over a decade later. If he's still counting his millions in the meantime, power to him.

That's the thing about art: It decides itself. It's in the eye of the beholder-- but also the creator. If you approach genre writing-- or graffiti, or breakdancing, or the Cadillac Ranch, or mid 90s hip hop-- as art, you've automatically defined it as such. If you approach it as a money making venture, you've also defined it accordingly. In my opinion, the latter decision, conscious or otherwise, will come through in the end product, and define the beholder's reaction for them.

But the failures of some products in the genre don't negate the worth of others. Cookie cutter boy bands don't make real rock and roll less groundbreaking. Ridiculous spaghetti westerns don't make "The Searchers" trash. Formulaic Twilight ripoffs don't diminish the greatness of Young Adult masterpieces from Madeleine L'Engle or Judy Blume or Laurie Halse Anderson.


As for self-definition: Will my own work, my own art, stand beside theirs? Maybe. Maybe not. But if I don't approach it as art in the first place, then definitely not. Will other people make me feel lousy about writing Young Adult? If I let them. But like King, I'm forced to shrug. I didn't choose YA. It chose me. And that is how I do it.





Be sure to check out the answers my other lovely ladies are putting up-- Cory will have the master list up at 10:00 PST!

ETA: Don't believe YA can be art? GO HERE.

EATA: I also partly blame Michelle for getting this song in my head weeks ago. WEEKS.

9 comments:

  1. One of your best. posts. EVER. Seriously. The dancing MC Hammer made it come alive for me! You're the only person I know who could put a soundtrack to this topic.

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  2. Can I just say I loved this? You definitely made me consider what it is I do and why I write what I write. And dissecting Montell Jordan's lyrics? Wow. Just. Awesome.

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  3. "I didn't choose YA, it chose me."

    This is so perfect! Loved this post :)

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  4. This post made me laugh and shake my head while pondering the whole 'writing as art' question brought up. Loved the soundtrack to the post, really made it jumpt off the screen at me. And, I second your contention, we never ever choose our writing styles. They knock us over the head and beat us down until we accept that they will never leave us alone! lol

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  5. OMG, I *love* that song! Lol...great post...um, can you write mine next time? Pretty please? :D

    P.S. I just read the Stephen King book and I totally remember that part!

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  6. Awesome post!

    That's the thing about art: It decides itself. It's in the eye of the beholder-- but also the creator.

    That could not have been better said. Art -- and many things in life -- is all about the perspective you have approaching it. :)

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  7. You have a real talent...er...art for bringing big concepts to earth. Great, and relatable, take on genre fiction as art!

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  8. Awesome post, you chose one of my favorite writing books. And such cool pics. And now I'm totally hearing, "O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o, Can't touch this. o-o-o-o Hammer time." Thanks a lot. ;-)

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  9. I read this and had to immediately wander over to youtube and play the song, much to Josh's disgust. I obviously need to work on his appreciation of mid nineties hiphop.

    "That's the thing about art: It decides itself."

    I enjoyed so many things about this post, but especially this line. I've felt similar for a long time about the stories I end up writing. The choice isn't really mine at all. I write the stories that want me to write them. They come first. Which I always have to try and incoherantly explain to people when they think I'm just doing it to try and be the next Stephanie Meyer. I might have to start pointing them towards this post to save time :-)

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