For as long as I can remember, I have loved cheesy, cringe-worthy, over-the-top plots. And for just as long, I’ve been told that there is something “bad” or “trashy” about this form of entertainment.
Even now, I want to explain away why I watched The Santa Clause on repeat during film school or read Twilight while on break from law school. Just last night, I offered to babysit my niece just to use her as an excuse to stream The Christmas Prince on Netflix.
Once, I sat on a panel all about 50 Shades of Grey where every panelist mocked the book only to find out that none of us had read it. “I’m not going to waste my time on trash” one of the panelists had said and I publicly agreed with her – then went home and devoured the series.
Why is it that we deem certain works of art worthy of our consumption and others not?
Remember Ethan Frome? For your sake, I hope you don’t. It’s one of the most painful, horrible books I’ve ever read. It took me two readings of the book and twice that many skims of the Cliff Notes to get through it and even then I still missed the point according to my high school English teacher.
To me, there is no point in reading Ethan Frome. Which is probably why most people don’t. Yet still, it’s considered a masterpiece and it’s author Edith Wharton is taught throughout the English speaking world. Meanwhile Danielle Steel, fourth best-selling fiction author of all time according to Wikipedia, is mocked and her books degraded.
Yes, a critique can be made that writers like Danielle Steel are formulaic and that traditional romance writing is politically and socially problematic, but there’s a reason romance is the top selling genre in all of literature: People like this stuff.
So then why do we degrade it?
Why can’t we see the value in something that is purely entertaining?
To answer that question fully, I’d have to go on for pages about capitalism, puritanical value systems, patriarchy, classism, racism, and all those other oppressive social constructs that teach us to value some things over others. But I don’t have time for a social analysis of why we degrade chick lit by women of color and boost boring white male autobiographies, so I’m just going to say this:
It’s 100% totally okay to read something others consider trashy.
It’s 100% okay to write something others consider trashy.
And there’s the rub. Because when we start to judge other people’s creative indulgences, we start to limit our own.
For too long, I tried to be a “good” writer. I longed to pen something profound and important, the kind of thing people would read in high school English classes for years to come. Problem was, I hated 90% of what I was forced to read in my high school English classes.
I was trying to write books I hated to read.
I was trying to be Edith Wharton when I’m more of a Danielle Steel. (But with super gay, fat, feminist characters.)
In August, I took myself on a writer’s retreat to Mexico City with the intention of finishing an important and powerful book about death and mental illness and race divisions and emotional inheritances – you know, easy stuff. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years and I was ready to get it finished.
But when I got there, I couldn’t write a damn thing because this stupid dream I’d had about The Rock kept creeping back into my brain. Yes, The Rock, as in action and ex-wrestle-mania-star Dwayne Johnson. I’m kind of obsessed. As I’m sure you are as well. Because really, how can you not be?
Every time I sat down to write The Next Great American Novel, all I wanted to write about was The Rock. So I did what I tell my coaching clients to do all the time: I gave in.
I wrote about The Rock.
And immediately my writer’s block disappeared.
I found a plethora of flow, inspiration, and productivity. I loved writing it so much that I often laughed at loud, not at myself, but with my characters. They were having fun. I was having fun. And I hope, when that book comes out in the future, that my readers will also have fun.
Sometimes we don’t need profound and life-changing. Sometimes we just need fun.
So I want to know: What are you reading for fun? What are you watching purely because it entertains you? And how can you transfer that fun entertainment to your writing?
Let me know in the comments below or email me your answer at firstname.lastname@example.org
With love in my heart and a trashy romance novel in my hands,
P.S. Here are some cheesy movies I love to watch again and again:
- The Santa Clause
- Cinema Paradiso
- Notting Hill
- Sleepless in Seattle (the soundtrack is even better than the movie)
- The 100 Foot Journey
- Sabrina (the original, not the remake)
- Roman Holiday
- Pretty Woman (the beginning of my love for sex workers)