The worst and best advice I’ve ever received was from my Creative Writing professor in college. She told me: “Stop writing genre fiction.”
This was terrible advice. It shamed me for my interests (since I wrote what I liked to read) and I felt suddenly unequipped to write a “real” book. It assumes that literary fiction is somehow superior to genre fiction. (Which it isn’t, in case you’re wondering. And I clearly didn’t stop writing genre fiction.)
But this was also the best advice. It was exactly what I needed to hear to realize that I was writing stereotypical genre fiction that did nothing to stretch the boundaries of either the genre or my own abilities. I needed to branch out. To read more broadly and attempt to write outside my comfort zone.
Around this time, I began reading a lot of fanfiction. I shied away from writing it at first, but eventually couldn’t resist dipping my toes into the fandom pool. I met some phenomenal writers, read equally phenomenal fanfics that were literary and tropetastic, fanfics that both fit into and shattered all the genre rules, and I grew more as a writer in those years than I did from all my college courses combined.
Writing and reading outside my comfort zone added new skills to my writing repertoire. And I found that I really liked it! Challenging yourself as a writer isn’t about forcing yourself to read or write something you don’t want to. It’s about acknowledging that you can be better and then taking the steps necessary to actually improve. Reading broadly informs and transforms your writing so that you don’t get sucked into those genre tropes that my professor so aptly noticed was happening in mine.
So write genre fiction or fanfiction or literary fiction and never for a moment feel ashamed by what you enjoy. But remember that every book you read is a learning opportunity, and every word you write is a learning process.
Lori M. Lee is an avid writer, reader, artist, and lover of unicorns. She should probably spend less time on the internet (but she won’t). She has a borderline obsessive fascination with unicorns, is fond of talking in capslock, and loves to write about magic, manipulation, and family. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, kids, and a friendly pitbull. She is the author of the Gates of Thread and Stone series.