“Genre Snobbery”: What we as Writers, and even Readers, Should Avoid

In this article found on Wired magazine’s website, author David Mitchell, whose body of work includes novels such as The Bone Clocks, Slade House, and most famously Cloud Atlas, discusses something very common that exists among writers, as well as just fans of literature, and the issues that he has with it. What Mitchell, is calling out is the notion that every piece of literary work written needs to fit neatly into one of the many mainstream genres, and that even if a piece does happen to fit into one of these genres (which he admits is perfectly okay), neither writers, nor readers for that matter, need to limit themselves to, or exclude themselves from, any of those genres as a result of personal bias. This “gene snobbery”, as the article’s author describes it, is a trend that is extremely prevalent in the consumers and producers of essentially all expressive mediums; whether it be fiction writing, music making, filmmaking, or even visual art, this trend exists among it’s user base. When someone decides they don’t like a genre, they are more than likely going to go out of their way to avoid the consumption of anything in that genre or, if said person is a writer, the production of that genre. An example: for arguments sake let’s say that I have decided that I do not like science fiction novels, because I just didn’t enjoy Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy (I know, a completely ridiculous and unbelievable example, but bear with me); as a result of deciding I dislike all Science Fiction because I didn’t enjoy one book that exists within its incredibly expansive genre, I am excluding myself from the enjoyment of a countless number of fantastic literary works that I could very well enjoy, yet I will never get to experience them because, in this hypothetical scenario, I have made the rash decision to forsake anything connected to the broad category of “science fiction.” In the article, Mitchell refers to this trend of “cutting yourself off” in this way as a “bizarre act of self-mutilation,” and, in all honesty, I agree. By classifying our work into these suffocating little “genres,” we are binding both our readers and ourselves to a strict formula, or schematic, for how we produce consume different forms of artistic expression. Consequently, we as writers will never be able to grow and develop to our fullest potential, all because we simply won’t let ourselves. David Mitchell attempts to fight this by working to just “[write] the best books that he can,” and choosing not to worry about whether or not the book he is science fiction, a mystery, or any other generic genre. He simply writes the story in his head.

Now I’m not a hypocrite- or at least not in this specific situation- I admit that I am just as guilty of this as any of you who are actually taking the time to read this class blog may be, but after reading this rather short article I couldn’t help but really think about the concept of genres and how they influence both our writing (as in the final product) and our actual writing process. That being said, what I am going to start applying to my every day life, whether it be in my writing or even just my enjoyment of expressive media (such as what music I listen to), is the conscious effort to ignore any and all genre classifications. They are not important, and the most they will do is give me an inaccurate and overly generalized opinion of whatever it is I am reading/watching/listening to/writing/written/about to write. I challenge you, my extremely small audience, to do the same. The next time you sit down to write something, anything at all, throw away all notions you have, or have ever had about genres, and just write the piece in your head. Don’t limit yourselves to any “rules” or restrictions posed by one set genre. If you’re work is good, that’s all that will matters. If you want your piece to be about a time traveling crime solving robot named Sylvester Dorkathamon, who is stuck in Victorian England and also doesn’t know that he is a time traveling crime solving robot, then by all means do it. I’m sure it will be awesome. This goes for what we choose to consume as well, because nothing influences us more then the work of others. So if you don’t like mysteries, go read a mystery; and if you don’t like period pieces, go watch Pride and Prejudice; and if you don’t like heavy metal music… well then you’re fine because heavy metal music sucks (joke). Hopefully through the loss of what I am choosing to call “genre goggles,” we will all be able to flourish as writers, in ways that we would have never thought possible.


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