Saturday, January 18, 2014

Stop writing books about novelists

There is a trope in fiction that I'm sure you've all come across - the story of the novelist. Whether the novelist is a side character struggling with a first novel, or the main character, mired in the struggles of overcoming writers block, I think we can all agree that this is not something completely unfamiliar.

Generally speaking, there are a lot of tropes I'm sick of. There are a lot of character types that bug me, a lot of basic cliches authors rely on to build a mood (particularly for anything that wants to be billed as "exotic"), a lot of phrases and ideas that crop up even though they're very rarely true... a whole literary world of tropes, and yet the one I'm most sick of is hearing about writers. You know why?

Because it's boring.

There's the old adage - write what you know. It used to be we'd get novels about doctors, novels about lawyers, novels about noblemen or noblewomen. And then came the all the artistic writers - books about generic artists, something that echoed the literary world but wasn't strictly identical. And now? Now every third novel I stumble across is about a writer. Usually living in New York. Usually struggling.

These books don't merely suffer because they're repetitive. They suffer from a fundamental lack, and that's a lack of scope. I have no problem with novels that focus very intently on one theme, idea, character or even location. I may personally find it to be a risky creative choice, but when it pays off, focused books can come off absolutely brilliantly (something like Beside the Sea). That's not the type of lack-of-scope issue novels about novelists have. Rather, those books seem to assume that they're the norm. It's an extraordinarily narrow, limited view of the world that annoys me every time.

Because how often do you see scientists in novels? How often do you see bankers, or researchers, or linguists, or programmers? How often do you have people who have an ordinary job that isn't the core of the novel? And let's be honest - how often do you see math teachers?

Write what you know. Writers today write about writing. It isn't meta, it isn't illuminating, it isn't clever... it's just dull. I for one have had enough.


  1. I hadn't thought about it before but I can think of how they could be samey and lacking in different themes. I haven't read enough of them to notice myself but yes, a possibility definitely.

  2. Ugh, YES. I couldn't agree with this more. There are so many jobs that I'd be fascinated to know what it's like to have them. I have read enough books at this point that I know what it is like to be a writer with writer's block. Enough already, I say.

  3. Amen!

    But you know, no novelist is smart enough to write about mathematics...


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