On Writing What You Want, Without Permission

“OK Boomer” is a thing now, used (understandably) by younger generations to glibly flip off older ones — not, I feel, to dismiss legitimate concerns, but to dismiss prevalent baby boomer / baby doomer attitudes of blah blah blah bootstraps, something something climate denial, yadda yadda but what about both sides. Is it fair? I dunno. You tell me: the younger generations are inheriting a world that feels like it’s being rolled right up to the edge of a cliff, a boulder about to be pushed off the precipice. Sure, yeah, hashtag NotAllBoomers*, but generationally, they’re the ones who took the freedom of the 60s and let it calcify into the osseous capitalist culture cemetery of the 80s. Meanwhile the millennials (often viewed as Anybody Young, much as the boomers are Anybody Old) and the Gen-Zers wonder why college is so expensive and why student loans are terrible and house prices are interminable and they’re accused of “killing” every boomer tradition likely in part because they just can’t afford it — and yet they get yelled at for affording *checks notes* avocado toast. So, “ok boomer” evolves out of that — a casual, perfect dismissal of the Old Man Yelling At Clouds.

Related (I promise), here’s something too I noticed the other day — I noticed that older people tend to ask for what they want. I went into a restaurant populated by some older folks and they were very particular about what they wanted. No, I don’t want to sit here, I want to sit there. Substitute gruyere for cheddar. No, I don’t like those bootstraps, I like these bootstraps, you sassmouthed dillywhipper.

I don’t say that as a knock — knowing what you want, and asking for it, is huge. And it’s something that I don’t feel you figure out until you get older. As a kid, I didn’t know to ask for what I want. In part because you’re told to take what you get. That’s the attitude, right? YOU GET WHAT YOU GET AND YOU LIKE IT. And that made me think back to the “ok boomer” thing, and how it’s a little bit of fuck-you-flavored resistance, a thumb-your-nose-at-the-olds thing, a bit of reclaiming agency — instead of RESPECT YOUR ELDERS it’s lol shut up. It’s a revelation of, “Yeah, no, we’re gonna reclaim our agency and skip asking for a better world, and start demanding one.” It’s a big thing. A vital and necessary generational spark.

And that made me think about writing.

When I was younger — and I think this is maybe true of younger, untested writers overall — you really, really want to Do It Right. You want answers and rules and a map and you want to follow that map. You want to to write to the genre and hit the beats and follow story structure and all that. And that’s understandable, isn’t it? Both in publishing and in the world at large we’re told there are rules. Ways things get done. Do this, don’t do that, don’t doom your chances, stick to the path, and you’ll be fine. The process is the process, ass-in-chair, x-words per day, stay in your genre lane.

But then, ideally, as you get older and more experienced in writing you realize, fuck that.

You start to see through that illusion — some of the biggest, bravest stuff breaks rules. It doesn’t follow a path. Yeah, you still gotta do the work, you gotta commit to this thing, but what that looks like isn’t like putting together an Ikea bookshelf. It isn’t set to some prescribed, predefined blueprint or structure. The best stories are the ones that became themselves, that were an emblem of the author’s heart and mind in some way, that embraced the rare confluence of narrative atoms that make up Who You Are. And I wish I’d learned that earlier. Don’t get me wrong — maybe there’s value in trying to follow the rules for a long time, because maybe that’s how you get practice, and maybe that’s how you mount up enough frustration energy to kick through the wall and find your own way through. But maybe it can also end up a sunk-cost fallacy. Maybe you don’t need all that time to try to do it how everyone else tells you to do it. And maybe some authors have a hard time breaking out of that mindset — that if they just get in line and follow the rules, it’ll all work out.

But fiction isn’t like that.

Publishing is, somewhat. By which I mean, you do need to generally follow some rules there — agents, querying, etc. Self-publishing is a bit more lawless, but you still gotta embrace the business side of things. Rather, it’s creatively where rules need to be subject to obliteration — order built from your own personal chaos. Order you made for yourself and your work — architecture you invented, not stole from someone else.

So, I’d advise authors — especially those in the midst of NaNoWriMo, and those writing fan-fic — to inject a little “lol ok boomer” into the work. To find a way to make your own demands in the work, of the narrative. To not ask for permission to write the book you want to write — and to write a different book than what the generations before already did write. Somebody will always be there to tell you why the story you want to tell isn’t right, or why you shouldn’t do that. But you know why you should. The story is in there. Your intestinal flora sing with the instincts necessary to do the work and tell the tale. Your heart knows what it wants; it knows the story it needs to tell. Don’t ask for permission to do that. Just write it. You are the only one for whom permission must be asked, and from whom it must be taken.

* just so we’re clear, I want to get ahead of anybody who’s going to still be like BUT THIS IS AGEISM #NOTALLBOOMERS. I hear you. I do. You, or a Boomer You Know, may be great. But do recognize that younger generations casting distrust toward older generations is a classic tune with a beat we can all dance to, and to quote Wikipedia, “Boomers are often associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, the civil rights movement, and the “second-wave” feminist cause of the 1970s. Conversely, many trended in moderate to conservative directions opposite to the counterculture, especially those making professional careers in the military (officer and enlisted), law enforcement, business, blue collar trades, and Republican Party politics. People often take it for granted that each succeeding generation will be “better off” than the one before it. When Generation X came along just after the boomers, they would be the first generation to enjoy a lesser quality of life than the generation preceding it.” So, just nod and smile and go with it. It’s not about you personally, okay? But if you’re that upset about it — it just might be.

** I also recognize that even by using it, my not-yet-old-but-certainly-not-young ass has only further reduced the potency of “ok boomer”

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A sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America. The real danger may not be the epidemic, but the fear of it. With society collapsing—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers and the shepherds who guide them depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart—or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

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