No Great Expectations

A writing tip from Sean Ferrell

Expect nothing.

Don’t be beholden to a preconceived notion of what your work should express, how it should sound, what it should be. This isn’t like cooking. If I rub chicken with an onion I get a flavor I can anticipate. This is procreating, just without the awkwardness. Not true: there’s plenty of awkward. And tears. And nudity. And regret. This is alchemy. You’re turning leaden words into golden stories. Let it happen. Don’t worry about genre. “I don’t want it to be YA. Sci-fi. Fantasy. Literary. Blah. Blah. Blah.” Good news: The fact that you’re worrying about that means you’re distracting yourself from the writing and so it won’t be anything, it will be the mush of a writer unwilling to commit to her or his characters. Write the damn thing. Then look at it. Does it have robots? Does it have lovers? Does it have gnomes or giants or how much you hate your neighbor? Now ask: does it tell the story I needed to tell? If the answer is “yes” then it doesn’t matter what label someone puts on your work. If the answer is “no” then you wrote the wrong story. Do not view genre as a shackle or ghetto. That’s an insult to people who truly know oppression. Revel in your alchemy, make mistakes, write terrible sentences, then revise the Devil’s balls off the thing. Own it. It’s yours. Love it, love yourself.

Sean Ferrell’s fiction has appeared in journals such as Electric Literature’s The Outlet and The Adirondack Review. His short story “Building an Elephant” won The Fulton Prize. His debut novel Numb was published by Harper Perennial in 2010, and Man in the Empty Suit was published in 2013 by Soho Press.



Say you're a time traveler and you've already toured the entirety of human history. After a while, the outside world might lose a little of its luster. That's why this time traveler celebrates his birthday partying with himself. Every year, he travels to an abandoned hotel in New York City in 2071, the hundredth anniversary of his birth, and drinks twelve-year-old Scotch (lots of it) with all the other versions of who he has been and who he will be. Sure, the party is the same year after year, but at least it's one party where he can really, well, be himself.

The year he turns 39, though, the party takes a stressful turn for the worse. Before he even makes it into the grand ballroom for a drink he encounters the body of his forty-year-old self, dead of a gunshot wound to the head. As the older versions of himself at the party point out, the onus is on him to figure out what went wrong—he has one year to stop himself from being murdered, or they're all goners. As he follows clues that he may or may not have willingly left for himself, he discovers rampant paranoia and suspicion among his younger selves, and a frightening conspiracy among the Elders. Most complicated of all is a haunting woman possibly named Lily who turns up at the party this year, the first person besides himself he's ever seen at the party. For the first time, he has something to lose. Here's hoping he can save some version of his own life.


Click on the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

5 comments:

Wendy said...

Love this advice. I was just emailing a friend a night or so ago complaining that I was feeling stuck between genres. I find it easy to feel self-conscious about it in the debate between literary and commercial fiction. But this advice is great. Writing is what matters, the rest is distraction. Well, some of the rest is snacks and those are okay, too.

Paul said...

"Don’t worry about genre. “I don’t want it to be YA. Sci-fi. Fantasy. Literary. Blah. Blah. Blah.” Good news: The fact that you’re worrying about that means you’re distracting yourself from the writing and so it won’t be anything, it will be the mush of a writer unwilling to commit to her or his characters."

A-men to that. You just have to write the friggin thing, the rest of that stuff can be worked out after draft #1.

Paul

conboyhillfiction said...

Yep - all that and what Paul said: 'A-men to that. You just have to write the friggin thing, the rest of that stuff can be worked out after draft #1'
I used to think people were being pretentious when they claimed to be surprised at how their characters turn out. Well, now I'm routinely astonished (and quite often a tiny bit concerned) at what mine get up to!

Amy said...

Yes, I agreed wholeheartedly with this as I wrote my first book, but then I attended a conference, where all the agents who read my work wanted was to pigeonhole it into a genre and criticize it for not adhering to genres they knew. Big disconnect between the process and selling it.

Jennifer S. Morris said...

Amy, I agree, there IS a huge disconnect between writing process and selling. I was so annoyed after a book conference I stopped writing for months. But the seductive call of putting words on paper lures me back. I even ignored an offer to send my work to one agent at the conference because I thought he was a jerk. I'll go to another conference primarily to pitch my book, (pay to play) and hit a few classes. But otherwise I'll go enjoy the host city, eat out, and do the art museum and RELAX about the 'pitch' and 'sell' pressure.