Once again, a poster over at Absolute Write inspires a comment there that deserves a blog posting here.
The poster asked if, considering the doldrums that the horror genre currently appears to be in, if we were all wasting out time writing this stuff. The following is my response,
In a word, No, you're not wasting your time.
First of all, writing is a creative outlet for those of us who perform it. In a sense, we can be likened to actors on a stage only the stage is our mind and the actors are our conscious and subconscious minds. The metaphor can also be likened to a director directing a stage play as well as that of the producer (actually, the producer might be better likened to the publisher, the director the agent and editors, but I'm getting away from the point), but in reality, we're more like the actors themselves. We see the stories in our imagination and we play them out in our minds. We invent the situations, set the stage, choreograph the moves, write the play, build the props, set the lighting, and raise the curtain. We are the whole kit-and-kaboodle of the acting genre right down to the folks who make and fetch the coffee and donuts. We write the stuff that others make work. Those others are our audience and we owe it to our audience to work at mastering our craft, hone our performances, and set the stage properly for the scenes they're about to witness.
That's the writer's job.
A writer never wastes their time writing. Never. Every minute spent writing is a minute spent creating something that, even if no one else ever reads it, helps us to define our own lives, our own purpose in the greater scheme of things. If someone else does happen to read it, we have provided a valuable service by entertaining that person, boring them to tears, or pissing them off. Ultimately, we've made that person feel something - and by the simple act of making ourselves and them feel, we have done something that is good.
The horror genre may be experiencing some doldrums these days, but horror has gone through doldrums before and it's always come back roaring out of the darkness to scare the audience with something new and frightening. It's good because people, for some strange reason, always like to be scared. From the times when we sat around a fire listening to the creatures scream and prowl outside the cave we've been entertained and frightened by stories. The fear of the unknown and that little screaming reptile in the backs of our minds is still there, buried inside us, waiting for something to leap in the cave's mouth and drag one of us off screaming into the darkness.
We love it. We have to have it. It's like a drug.
There's a metaphor there too that it would pay us to take heed of. Horror and fright is like a drug. If there's too much of one kind of horror or fright that's inundating our senses we quickly become used to it. It doesn't give us the same sort of high any more. We're currently inundated with frightening scenes in our real world - economic collapse, terrorism, the fear of losing our jobs, murder, rape, violence rising seemingly all around us. So, the horror that used to scare us doesn't seem so frightening anymore. We need more, more powerful, different types of scares.
That's part of our job as horror writers too, to come up with new ways of telling tales that frighten people, that touch them and put them in touch with their emotions, to create that emotional reaction in our readers, our audience, and in ourselves.
That does not mean going with the flow. Going with the flow is part of what's wrong with today's horror. There are too many people trying to write like King, or Keene, or Lumley, or Lovecraft. There are too many stories like Saw, I Know What You Did, Friday The 13th, etc., etc., ad nauseum. It's gotten old. It's not even that scary anymore. People have complained that vampires aren't scary anymore, that zombies are old hat, that crazed psychopathic axe-wielders are things of the past.
So, as a horror writer, it's part of our job to come up with new variations on old themes.
They say that every story that can be told has been told, but people still keep buying books, still keep flocking to see movies, so there must be something in all those old, often-told stories that keeps people coming back to them to read and re-read, to buy tickets, and to sit in those chairs and watch as the curtain goes up.
You never waste your time writing. You might waste someone else's time reading what you wrote, but that's their decision, not yours.
You, and that means every writer out there, has the opportunity and the ability to redefine an entire genre.
All you have to do is figure out how and then commit to doing it.