Original writing is a lost art

As a writer, I have long felt like it was my responsibility to remain an original writing voice in the world. It’s a lesson we learn at an early age in school, finding your voice through your writing.

But as the years pass and the competition in the industry is amplified, every writer has to make a difficult choice: Follow the proven, successful storytelling strategies that seem to sell to a broad audience, or remain a unique, singular voice? For many, the decision can be very difficult to make.

Writing in an original style is a risk. Will it resonate with readers? Will publishers and agents be impressed? There also seems to be a negative connotation around the term “literary” books. People see them as boring or slow or deep or depressing — not always the type of book we’d like to settle down with after a long day at work.

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What interested me was the explanation the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program uses for the portfolio work it accepts from applicants:

The reason we tend to have relatively few dedicated genre writers in our program at any given moment is simple: we are most interested in vital, singular voices—writers producing work that only they could produce. Meanwhile, genre writing—by definition, at least in its most straightforward form— tends to adhere to clearly established tropes and conventions.

Is that just an elitist attitude from academia, or is it a valid argument? Maybe a little of both.

So I’ll ask you: Do you try to be more original or to deliver to readers what they want? There are certainly pros and cons for each strategy. It’s a dilemma I’ve wrestled with for years now — remain writing literary books, like I did with Between Two Slopes and Somewhere More Than Free, or find a genre niche. I’ve certainly been inspired to write both types of novels over the years.

But to this point, I have yet to brave the world of genre fiction. What say you?

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