Monday, October 11, 2010

Musicspeak: Bach and Iron Maiden, part IIb


Imagine, if you will, that someone I just met finds out I am a writer and asks, "What do you write?"

Some answers:
"I write fiction."
Reaction:

"I write middle-grade and young adult fiction."
Reaction:

"I write research papers on mid-twentieth century analytical philosophers."
Reaction:

"I write romance."
Reaction:

"I write novels based on the characters from Star Wars and Star Trek: Next Generation."
Reaction:

"I write literary novels and short stories."
Reaction:

"I write about people who routinely experience strong premonitions of disasters before they occur."
Reaction:

How did you react? You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but I'd love to have a sampling of what people think in reaction to these answers.

Some labels are benign: "fiction" for example. But some others carry heavier implications.

But here is the thing, just because I am not interested in reading about people who may be able to predict disasters with their psychic or other powers tells me nothing about the quality of the writing. In my old critique group was a writer whose writing I admired. He prefaced one of his new works sheepishly by telling us it was fan fiction. I didn't know what fan fiction meant at the time, and I didn't understand his attitude. In the same way, another member was always apologetic about her book being a romance. But these writers are good, no matter the genre,
I enjoyed their stories.

So, back to the question of why use labels. I hope this is one answer: labels and categories help define what we do and help us make decisions. And it may even open the channel for further discussion. Say you like philosophy but don't care much for writing that characterizes Continental philosophy, you'd jump all over yourself to talk to this person about analytical philosophy. I wouldn't, but you may.

So what am I trying to say?

I am trying to say that labels are necessary, not adequate, but necessary, and that the main reason they fall short is the people hold many different kinds of opinions and prejudices, carefully examined or otherwise.

I am also trying to say that even though I focused on art music in my original post, I am not making a statement about its worth compared to other types of music. I focused on it because it is the kind of music that gives me joy, engages me mind and soul, and allows me to feel deeply. It expresses something I can relate to; it expresses something bigger than me; it expresses the emotions and lives of people who lived hundreds of years ago. And one reason I am able to reap such wonderful rewards, besides being given an innate attraction to it, is that I've had the privilege of being exposed to outstanding performances and of studying the music. Would I feel this way about this music had I not been given these gifts? Probably not.

I hope you'll tell me what you think, and come back for the next, and last installment of this exploration.

6 comments:

Rebecca said...

"I write romance."

My reaction: Oh, so you like writing steamy love scenes? (I'm not a fan of romance, but I have read some romances that I actually enjoyed)

"I write novels based on the characters from Star Wars and Star Trek: Next Generation."

My Reaction: I'm picturing you in a Jedi or Klingon costume at a sci fi convention. :-)

When someone asks me what I write, I tell them I write children's books. Their reaction is usually something like, "Cool." Of course, their facial expressions send a variety of unspoken messages.

Domey Malasarn said...

"I write fiction."
Reaction: As a regular person, I'd want more details. As a writer myself, I can totally understand that this might be all someone would want to say.

"I write middle-grade and young adult fiction."
Reaction: "Wow, that's hard stuff. I admire you for being able to do that."

"I write research papers on mid-twentieth century analytical philosophers."
Reaction: I would hold judgment on this because I feel like I need to see the actual writing before I know how I feel about it.


"I write romance."
Reaction: "Wow that's hard. I admire you."

"I write novels based on the characters from Star Wars and Star Trek: Next Generation."
Reaction: This wouldn't be as interesting to me. Okay, not at all.

"I write literary novels and short stories."
Reaction: This wouldn't be enough information for me. I'd probably not say much, even though this is typically my answer!

"I write about people who routinely experience strong premonitions of disasters before they occur."
Reaction: Not that interesting to me. I'd probably ask them if they were psychic.



I approach labels from a different angle. For me, the labels serve to orient readers on what I do so that I can keep my writing away from the people who won't like it and toward the people who will. I'm really afraid of feeing like I "tricked" someone into reading my work because of an inaccurate label.

Bish Denham said...

I write middle grade.

Reaction: What books have you had published? (People always seem to assume one has to have a book published to be a published writer.)

As for all the other labels, whether I read them or not, I say, "That's great!" because I know the work it takes to write anything.

C. N. Nevets said...

Okay, so I took this test honestly with my first reactions. Please don't hold anything I say against me, because there is a huge difference between my gut reaction and my considered opionion.



"I write fiction"
-- "Oh, what kind?"

"I write middle-grade and young adult fiction."
-- "So do a million other people who want to write the next Harry Potter or can't get over their junior high crushes."

"I write research papers on mid-twentieth century analytical philosophers."
-- "Sweet! We should talk sometime!"

"I write romance."
-- "At least your books will get checked out of the library all the time."

"I write novels based on the characters from Star Wars and Star Trek: Next Generation."
-- *snicker* "Yeah, I used to do that do when I was 16."

"I write literary novels and short stories."
-- "Nice! What kind of approach do you take?"

"I write about people who routinely experience strong premonitions of disasters before they occur."
-- "Uhhhhhh. I'm sure there's a niche for that."

C. N. Nevets said...

p.s. My gut reaction is a jerk.

Yat-Yee said...

Rebecca: it's true that the facial expressions say a lot more than the actual words.

Domey: I see what you mean by taking a different approach. It's a relational thing. As for the fear of tricking people into reading your book, well, people can stop reading any time.

Bish: that's a good thing you do, to encourage people

Nevets: Really appreciate your honesty and I don't think that makes you a jerk because how you react in your mind and how you choose to react outwardly don't have to be the same thing.

You know what, though? I suspect your reactions are very typical of most others'. Well, except for the analytical philosopher bit. (I tried, I really tried, but I feel so dimwitted half the time and stupid the other that I make no headway.)