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Sunday, 8 August 2010

To Lit or Not to Lit By Moira Allen

HAY-ON-WYE, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 24:  A girl r...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Moira Allen is the Editor of, an excellent website with a great deal of informative, helpful and pertinent content for writers. The following article is from the latest newsletter, to which you can subscribe for free. It is reproduced here, with Moira’s kind permission, as I felt it should have as wide a readership as possible.

To Lit or Not to Lit

When I conducted the survey of literary magazine editors that led
to the article in this week's issue, my goal was to find out what
writers might need to know to target this particular market.
Sadly, what also reared its ugly head was the age-old controversy
about the merits of "literary fiction" vs. everything else.

Now, I am sure that there are hundreds of literary editors, writers
and readers who harbor no ill-feelings toward mainstream and genre
fiction.  Unfortunately, there are also many who regard anything
outside the "literary" realm as, apparently, beneath contempt.
Here are just a few of the comments about mainstream and genre
fiction that my survey elicited (and that I didn't feel necessary
to include in my article):

"[Mainstream fiction is]... easily and readily absorbed and
requires little thought, little work on the reader's part."

"There is little attempt to provide deeper insights into character,
setting, the plot, or societal issues."

"... there's no complication in terms of ideas or even our
emotions.  We aren't asked to question or even think about

"When I think of the word 'literary' I envision writing that is
entirely memorable, vivid and original... I guess a 'mainstream'
story, while enjoyable, would not have [these] qualities..."

OK, you may be wondering, so why even bring this up?  For one
simple reason: Because I've heard from too many writers who have
been told, in one venue or another, that they are "no good" because
their work is not "literary" enough.  I've heard from writers who
have gotten this message in writing groups, from instructors, from
reviewers, and even from friends.  And, quite often, the message
has been devastating, leading some writers to wonder if they should
just stop writing altogether.

It's a sad attitude to take in the world of writing, which is
filled with enough obstacles as it is.  It is an attitude that
arises out of an inability to view alternate forms of writing as
simply DIFFERING forms -- rather than "superior" and "inferior"
forms.  Tastes differ; if they did not, the world of literature
would be a dull place indeed.

I tend to think of myself has having fairly eclectic reading
tastes.  My bookshelves are crammed with hundreds of volumes,
ranging from Victorian classics to favorite young adult novels to
genre fiction to... well, let's just say my husband has suggested
that we reinforce the floorboards upstairs.  However, varied as my
tastes might be, I shudder to imagine what Barnes and Noble, for
example, might look like if it provided ONLY the sorts of books
that I, personally, fancied.  The store would probably fit into my
garage!  But my imagination doesn't stop there; it also envisions
thousands of readers, wandering disconsolately through a vast,
echoing, empty store, trying to find something THEY would like to
read in a world that has suddenly shrunk to accommodate MY tastes.

Thank goodness, my vision does not reflect reality.  Instead, when
I visit B&N or any other bookstore, I revel in the shelves upon
shelves of books, books of every description -- including thousands
upon thousands of books that I will never read and never even WANT
to read.  When I stand in the middle of some huge bookstore, I feel
as if I am standing within the universe of possibility.  There is
so much thought, so much knowledge, so many ideas in this one place
-- thought and knowledge and ideas that are perpetually spreading
outward, every time someone picks up a new book and takes it home.

What a pity it would be if that spread of ideas were limited by any
one group of writers, editors, readers -- or, as is the very real
situation in some countries, by the censorship of a government.
When I step into a giant bookstore, it becomes abundantly clear
that there is a place for me, and for you, and for the writer down
the lane, whether those places are side by side on the shelf or on
opposite walls of the store.

Attempting to tell writers, or readers, that their tastes aren't
"good enough" for the literary universe is a sad attempt to fit a
giant bookstore into the garage of one's personal taste.  Taste is
a rainbow, not a hierarchy.  One writer's taste may be different
from another's; that does not make it better or worse.

More importantly, the very last thing we want to do, as writers, is
to attempt to constrain the taste of readers.  We keep hearing that
readers are becoming an increasingly endangered species -- so let's
not endanger them still further by suggesting to even a single
reader that there is something wrong with their literary tastes.
My readers may never become your readers -- but readers inspire
other readers, and the person who picks up my book today may
inspire someone else to pick up yours tomorrow.

So if you're one of those writers who has been told that you should
be writing more "serious" fiction, or that your writing isn't
"literary" enough, or that you're simply a "hack" for trying to
"appeal to the masses," simply look that person in the eye, smile,
and say, "I'm sorry you feel that way."  Then go on to write
whatever it is that YOU want to write.  The only writing that will
touch your readers' hearts is the writing that comes from your OWN
heart -- and if we all want to keep writing, we need to touch as
many readers' hearts, across the spectrum, as possible.

-- Moira Allen, Editor

Word of the Day is divorced from the post that precedes it and produced in response to a request from a follower to provide just such a service.
Word of the Day; deconstruction – a type of literary criticism that analyses text and highlights those aspects that expose unquestioned assumptions and inconsistencies. ‘Deconstruction is of limited interest to authors and of real interest only to literary critics with nothing better to do.’

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