Thursday, April 26, 2012

Guest Post: Tonia Laird

*Allison pops in*

Okay - last guest post for me this week. (Come hell or high water, revisions for A Trace of Moonlight will be done by this weekend and I'll be back in the swing of things next week.)

That in mind, this week I'd like to introduce Tonia Laird, who is a friend and fellow writer/artist (She's got a super busy schedule so I was happy to be  able to snag her for a guest post here.)

<-- Check out her artwork!


So. You’re a writer. You’ve always been a writer. First, making up stories first about imaginary friends. Then, as you grow older, imagining the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are hanging out with you in the field behind your house. Michaelangelo was also so sweet, if a little slow on the uptake. Poor Leonardo, he was just boring. After that, you move on to X-Men, writing fanfics about Wolverine and his long-lost daughter, or Storm’s half-sister. (Oh, wait. So you didn’t do that? Are you sure? I mean… I can’t be the only one!)

Now you’re finished high school and you have to join the “Real World”. But really, the “Real World” is so boring. There’s barely any sword fights, and you’re still waiting for that epic mage battle to erupt in the streets in front of your house. So what do you do? You want to write for realz. How do you do that, you wonder? Well, I went down the creative writing class route. For the most part, I was ridiculously happy, almost giddy, about what I was learning and how quickly I began to recognize the problems within my own writing and how to fix them. I loved my instructors. I loved the majority of my classmates. We all had a very good thing going.

That is, until I took a fiction writing class in my second year. Normally, I’m a fantasy writer. That’s what I love to daydream about the most. However, to branch out and become “more rounded”, I took my first year and wrote in completely different styles than I was used to, thinking it would help bolster my style. And it really did. So much that I decided to take more classes outside of the “genre-realm” and save my fiction writing class to concentrate on my fantasy novel. Something I hadn’t touched for over a year.

Well, imagine my disappointment when the instructor announced in class he didn’t want any of that “genre” stuff in his class. There was a collective groan heard throughout the room. The majority of us were genre writers, and we were bloody proud of it. And now here’s this instructor, who I heard many good things about, and not only is he telling us genre isn’t allowed, but he says it with disdain. It was… disappointing.

So… instead of falling in line, which I probably should have, I thought perhaps if I wrote up my work as a period piece, I could get away with working on my fantasy novel. The instructor seemed fine with the first submission, but someone let it spill. This was a fantasy. He shook his head, but said nothing more of it.

When we had our mid-semester meeting with this instructor, he was pretty blunt. He tapped my latest submission a few times on the table, sighed, and finally made eye contact.

“You know… I know this is fantasy.”


“It’s not that bad.”


“You know… you’d be a good writer if you just didn’t write genre.”

And…sigh. That’s all I could do. So… if I gave up on what I’m passionate about, I’d finally excel? I didn’t buy it. And I didn’t go back to school after being an animator to write what doesn’t interest me. So what did I do with that advice? Overall? I ignored it. Well, not totally. I would pull that memory to the forefront whenever I questioned what the hell I was doing trying to pursue a career in writing.

Basically, I used that advice as a challenge. I know that the instructor was actually trying to “help” in an old school type of way. But it’s the wrong advice. I personally don’t think anyone should try to steer a writer from what they love. What’s the point of living in your head if you’re not enjoying it?

This is my worst example, and I admit, it isn’t the tip of the iceberg for some other writers I know. And please, if you have any “bad writing advice” stories, I’d love to hear them. Commiserating is group fun!

Tonia Laird works as a writer for BioWare, is an avid monkey trainer, and wears size 6 hockey skates. One of these may not be true... Her blog, The Brawling Octopus, can be found here:


  1. Hi Tonia! Creative writing classes can be tough, because the instructor always brings his or her own experiences/prejudices to the class. It can be great, as it exposes the students to different ways of thinking. But it can also be really discouraging, as you illustrated above.

    I took a creative writing course in my second year of my Bachelor of Arts in English Lit at Ottawa U. It was a fabulously praised class and had a really small admittance (less than 10 students, and they were usually in third or fourth year). What drew me to the class was a chance to write short stories, have them critiqued by my peers, and really learn more about this writing thing that I'd been stumbling through alone since I was a teenager.

    As it turns out, the class was mostly focused on poetry. Short stories were only allowed if they were less than a page in length (!!). It was a really interesting experience to try to conform to those rules (I think I managed two flash fiction–style stories), but at the same time, I felt that my love of prose was being looked down upon and dismissed. It was not as important as poetry. There was nothing to be learned from writing it. Of course, anyone who's studied short stories in literature knows that's nonsense, but that's what I felt I was being told.

    So my advice: Writing is subjective. Every writer has to find what works for them — genre, style, etc. On top of that, they need to learn when to take advice and listen to criticism, and when not to. It's a fine line to tread and definitely not an easy one to distinguish.

  2. I always find this type of story interesting, because I had a very similar experience. I'm not sure what it is about genre writing that seems to irritate literary types so much. It is rather irritating to attempt to increase your writing ability...just to be told that your passion is "unworthy."

    Things are changing though - Nicole Peeler, for example - she's a fellow Urban Fantasy author and a professor of English literature and creative writing at Seton Hill University - so I would imagine her classes are a bit friendlier to the genre writer. :)

  3. What you describe is shockingly familiar. In my third semester at college I qualified for a fiction writing course and I was so excited about it. But when our professor gave us our assignments, he made it very clear that genre fiction was a no-no.

    I did the assignment as he asked, writing a literary short story. But I think I could've done a much better job writing something I enjoyed; something I'd studied extensively.

    The thought that genre fiction takes less skill than literary fiction is so terribly antiquated. I'm glad you were able to skirt around it!

  4. Thanks for guest-posting with us, Tonia!

    I love Neil Gaiman's take on this: