Literary Pretension: Real or Imagined?

When you see the same situation appear in multiple works by multiple authors, you start to wonder whether it happens in real life. At least, I do. I don’t mean vampire attacks or things like that. I’m thinking more plausible situations – like writing professors sneering at students who want to publish regular paperback fiction.

I’ve never had that happen (knock on wood). My writing professors so far have been published authors, playwrights, or screenwriters. They’re people who have made at least part of their living writing, and they had (have, I hope) a very down-to-earth approach with no real scorn for genres or methods.

On the other hand, I have run into that attitude in many other arts. I’ve heard it from painters (do not mention Thomas Kinkade to them), I’ve heard it from architects (many disdain mainstream construction), and I’ve heard it from musicians (scorn for non-classical music techniques or for cover bands).

With those experiences in mind, the idea that this occurs in writing is very believable; however, I have very rarely encountered this attitude outside of the academic world. Usually, the guilty party has been a professor or a recent student (who was basically parroting the teachers). Once they’ve worked in their art for a while, I’ve found that most people value these high ideals less. In fact, the only people outside of academia I’ve run into with similar opinions have been people who work in the fine arts area (meaning they cater to a small number of wealthy clientele or to academic types) and people who don’t make a living at their art.

If you ever do encounter this situation, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind after hearing their opinions.

1. Their standards only matter if you’re writing for them. If you want to write the next great American novel and be regaled with literary awards, then, you might want to pay attention. But it’s ok not to want to write the next great American novel.

2. These people are a minority. Most readers read for entertainment. Add that most Americans read at a middle school level, and you can assume they’re probably not looking for something with lofty literary values.

3. What story do you have to tell? Your first responsibility is to the story – to give it life, to work on it so that it can be shared. Yes, once it is written, you may have to make tweaks to get it published. But trying to write a story you don’t want to write hurts you and the story.

While I’d like to think this doesn’t happen in writing circles, my biggest hope is that running into this situation doesn’t discourage anyone from writing. Maybe, it is more like the vampire attacks – something someone made up. What do you think? Is this simply a common plot point, or does this really happen?

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