I am one of those oddities who actually got a degree in creative writing, because I followed the advice of “go to school for something you love” and not worry about making money. Happiness is more important than dollars. Here’s the thing: One of the biggest impacts my CW program had on me was to instill a deep-seated insecurity about my chosen writing genre(s). I didn’t really realize it at the time, but now, years after graduation, it has dawned on me that while teaching me some important lessons, it was also subconsciously cutting me down. The entire fiction program was focused on getting us into grad school, and Grad Schools Don’t Want Genre Fiction. They Want To Know You Can Write Real, Literary Fiction.
So I spent three years not writing scifi, not writing fantasy, and not writing romance.
Don’t ask me what the hell I did write, because I honestly don’t remember. I wrote specifically to get a grade, and tossed the pieces to the side as soon as I could. When people asked me what I liked to write, I would reluctantly admit scifi/fantasy. I never admitted I wrote romance, let alone gay romance. Writing romance is like, ugh, bottom of the barrel in skill-level, as far as my creative writing program was concerned. Anyone can write romance.
Do you know how much bad romance I’ve encountered? And I don’t mean the kind with weird outfits.
I never wanted to go to grad school for writing. That was never in my end goal. The entire program was devoted to teaching me how to do something I never planned to do, and in its pursuit of preparing me for a goal I did not want to achieve, it taught me that the things that I did want to do Weren’t Good Enough.
Ugh, no, no, no. I graduated from that program in 2012. It has taken me five years to get over that and embrace who I am and what I write. It took me finding the m/m romance genre–specifically starting with Josh Lanyon, and realizing that holy shit, there are authors who write this, exclusively this, extensively this. And write it well. Josh Lanyon uses some really great figurative language, beautiful descriptions, strong dialogue, realistic emotion–all that kind of shit my creative writing program encouraged me to write as “literary fiction.” There it is, all those Good Things… in a book featuring gay romance as a major element of the plot.
Well hot damn.
And look! There are all these other authors that do the same thing! I found Aleksandr Voinov next–gay scifi romance?! Oh my god. THIS. IS. A. THING. I. CAN. DO! THIS IS A REAL THING! THIS EXISTS. PEOPLE DO THIS. PEOPLE DO WHAT I WANT TO DO. AND THEY HAVE FANS.
Count me in!
There is absolutely nothing shameful in writing romance. I’m still getting over that preconception. I don’t go gallivanting around talking about my writing in real life, because that’s annoying, but I do mention it in passing (given the fact that I spend 98% of my free time doing it, it’s hard for me to hold a conversation without mentioning it). To my great relief, no one really ever asks what I write. But if/when they do, I always hesitate before admitting to romance. Based on blog posts I’ve read off and on over the past few months, I’m not the only one who is afraid of some kind of stigma surrounding the title of “romance writer.”
But I noticed this weird thing when I did start admitting it: No one fucking cares.
No one judges me for it. No one thinks I am any less of a skilled writer than if I was trying to write a modern To Kill a Mockingbird or Great Gatsby. In fact, the average person is probably more interested in romance than “literary fiction.” People read romance. People identify with romance. Most people read for fun and entertainment, not to get some kind of deep message ingrained into their souls. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing specifically and exclusively for entertainment. As it would turn out, only people who teach creative writing to college students are going to think that my chosen genre of writing in any way reflects on my skills as a writer overall.
This year I’m all about self-love and embracing who I am. As it just so happens, I’m a lady who writes gay romance, and the only thing you can judge me by is the quality of my writing.
Which isn’t published anywhere yet.
So good luck judging me.
(If you really want to judge me, I suppose you can go based off my blog. Bring it on. I’ll fight you.)
I’m curious about your experiences with talking about your writing. Do your friends and family know what you write? Do you feel like there’s a stigma around the romance genre?