I unfollowed a writer on twitter the other day, in an act of self-preservation. Not a bad guy in any way, but he kept tweeting a sentiment I found artistically damaging. Over the course of several days, he kept tweeting that you should only write the stories you couldn’t not write, the stories you had to write. Now, there’s nothing wrong with living your artistic life this way. But for me, well, I don’t have to write anything. I find twitter and facebook and reading pretty fulfilling, actually, so if I were to only write the things I have to write, well I’d pretty much stop. So I decided what I really had to do was unfollow.
Now, I care deeply about the things I write about. I write emotional stories, or at least I try to, and I try to bleed on the page and sell my heart. But I don’t think everybody needs to do this. The world needs clever puzzle stories and comical stories and fun stories and adrenaline-pumping action stories and stories about übercompetent characters who don’t actually have character arcs.
One of the most damaging things I’ve experienced as an aspiring artist is the overly prescriptive nugget of advice. You have to do this. Real writers do that. It’s not worth doing if it isn’t such-and-such. This is the only way. For many years, this was a source of writers’ block for me, as I struggled to fit myself into other people’s boxes.
(I recognize the irony of linking to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “You’ve got to . . .” advice, but despite how prescriptive it is, this was one piece of advice that worked for me. And that’s the thing. It’s not that advice from artists to artists is bad—it’s that it’s not and can never be universal. I think advice should take the form, “This is what I find helpful. You might like to try it and see if it works for you as well, if it matches up with something you are looking to change.”)
These days, when somebody offers me a box, I run the other way.