What do you write?

When I was in school, people would often ask what I was studying. I would tell them that I was majoring in creative writing. Sometimes that was enough to appease their curiosity. They would nod, conversation would migrate to another topic entirely. Occasionally, people would pursue the matter, ask me what I liked to write. I would tell them fiction and they’d nod pleasantly. It’s harder now.
At school, people seemed ready to accept my chosen field of study as just one of those things, similar to exercise science or applied physics. They might want to know what I did, but they certainly didn’t want to know how.
Now, it’s different. People seem baffled, intrigued by the fact that I sit in front of a computer all day and it’s not “for a class.” They want specifics, and this is problematic. They say, “But what do you write about?” I equivocate. Sometimes, I make things up.

For me, school has always been its own universe, complete with an alternate set of expectations, its own charming reality. Taking that into account, I always wrote to the market when I was in school, mindful of the genre conventions. I went about the whole thing a little cynically, tailoring stories to certain professors, only writing my weirder things on the side. It was a business like anything else, the business of completing a program, meeting certain requirements. I was still waiting to find out exactly what it was I wrote.
Until fairly recently, I had no idea that I even felt this way. I was oblivious to my own machinations. Then, one morning last spring, I was at my literary internship. I was sitting around reading slush, and the editor came out of her office and asked me what I planned to do when I graduated.
I shrugged and said, “I’m thinking of becoming the first female horror mogul. I could be like a little Clive Barker, and write stories and scripts and video games. I’d become very famous and write whatever I wanted. And then Todd McFarlane would come and turn all my characters into action figures and I would play with them.”
When she laughed, I thought at first that it was because I was being outrageous and also, most people just don’t understand about action figures. Then she said, “But you write literary fiction.”
I said, “Sometimes.”
And inside-me was rolling her eyes, saying, “Yeah, for school. I also write twenty-five page papers about Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust. For school.”
It was like waking up.

I still don’t know what to tell people when they ask what I write. Suddenly, the market is not a bank of four very literary professors, but any market I want. I could conceivably pursue any genre, any idea, as long as I could pull it off.
Since graduating, I’ve started writing whatever appeals to me, just any idea that seems insanely attractive. Currently, my favorite writing playgrounds are the second draft of My Great and Terrible Urban Fantasy, and the first draft of my-highly-unmarketable-but-entertaining memoir. Ancillary distractions mostly consist of various short stories in various stages of development. Horror. Spec fiction. Literary. Just-Plain-Weird.
I think I’ll start telling people that when they ask.
“What do you write?”
“Anything I want. Usually, though, it’s just plain weird.”

5 thoughts on “What do you write?

  1. I added you by-the-by. And I started responding to your entry when it turned into a post of my own. :-)
    Cara and I went to the Peabody Essex Museum on Sunday and saw these gorgeous intricate scupltures by this Native American artist from Phoenix. People keep asking him, “How long did it take you to make this?” and he answers, “All my life.”
    That made me smile.

  2. Rage rage against classification! It’s nice to be versatile and undefinable. One EXTRA thing you’ve got (besides master skill, of course) is the element of surprise. Put you in a room with someone who cringed and shuddered while reading “The Virgin Butcher” and they’d never guess.

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