According to Stephen King “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
On Writing is in the top two of my all time favorite books about writing. This quote kicked me a good one. Being on the outs with polite society is something I struggle with. (As if I have a social life in any part of society, but hypothetically I mean.) I write Action Adventure and I tend to give the muse free reign in order to give the story all the room it needs to live. That means I write what I write with the full knowledge that not everyone will get it or approve.
There’s a quote I picked up at writer conferences, and I have to paraphrase it because I can’t remember the exact wording, but it goes something like this:
Don't write to please everyone; if you do no one will like it. Write for yourself, and some people will like it and some won’t. ~ Who said this first? I couldn’t find the source.
Fact is the book hasn’t been written that everybody likes. At the last conference I attended, it was mentioned that if you try to sell your book by touting that everyone will like it, you have just lost all credibility. As a matter of fact the top selling books are:
1. The Bible – Six Billion Sold
2. Quotations of Chairman Mao – 900,000,000
3. The American Spelling Book – Up to 100,000,000*
Which of those books do you have? I know many of you will own a copy of the first one. Okay then, would you say that everyone likes that book? The point is there is no book that everyone will like.
As a writer of course I want people to like my work, but I’m also fully aware that life doesn’t work like that. I write Action Adventure with a slight twist of fantasy—think time travel, immortality, mind reading, etc. I also like to inject wry humor into my writing. I tend to see humor in most situations. That doesn’t mean, however, that I won’t tackle painful or uncomfortable topics, including layering in a bit of inappropriate humor. Or interject a naughty word into dialogue, or a mildly racy scene if it is relevant to the story line, both things that can leave me on the outs in some circles.
Do I care? Yes. Do I care enough not to write a story that is on my heart? No.
Recently I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and throughout the book I was touched and inspired by her candid honestly regarding her childhood. It certainly isn’t easy to bare your soul in any book, let alone in such a painful and honest memoir. It does make me wonder what constitutes the type of writing that knocks an author out of polite society? Some obvious answers came to mind.
1. Taking a politically incorrect view of any topic? I’ll bet this is one. We seem to be currently in a world where you can lose your job for contributing financially to the wrong cause. And you will be judged by an army of Tweeters. Context/Personal Privacy are so Old School.
2. Creating a worrisome or frightening character? If you write the next Hannibal Lecter, will your neighbors still ask you to babysit? Has Stephen King ever been asked to babysit? Hmmm. (Note to self…)
3. Did E. L. James, who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey, get into trouble with her Mum?
4. How about a memoir that will get you uninvited from all family events throughout eternity? Although after reading The Glass Castle, that’s not always a bad thing.
5. When you plop down next to your Pastor/Spiritual Advisor at a function and he says, “I read your book,” how does that make you feel about how the assassin in the book handled moral dilemmas? Or does your mind go immediately to checking out a new church?
Does it seem a better option to write within a box, using popular guidelines? To attempt never to offend? Why not simply write defensively and cautiously? Ah, that is the question. My answer is because as a writer I feel an obligation to tell my stories in an honest, candid way. My question for you is twofold. How far will you go to stay within the boundaries of polite society? What is more important truth or comfort?
*Stat quoted from Russell Ash’s The Top Ten of Everything 2002