I Will Not Write For You

By Jenna Kim

And I don’t want you to write for me. I’m personally tired of trying to write nice, pretty, mellifluous words. I’m tired of trying to conform. I think I kind of want to go apeshit. And maybe I actually will, because I want to write for “me.” I want to write for that little girl who could’ve used a book with a character eating rice and banchan for dinner every night. I won’t write to please anybody nor should I have to explain myself. I shouldn’t have to define my work from head to toe, because I signed up to be a writer, not a translator. My work is a story, not a dictionary. If people can bend backwards to search up “sepulchral” then they can be bothered to search up “kimchi” too. I’m going to write what I wish I could’ve seen on pages, what I wish to see published and put on a shelf or a screen. Someone can tell me that my stories and other people’s works aren’t good because they can’t relate to the main character, but that’s ok. Because stories like an Asian girl transforming into a red panda was never meant for John Doe to begin with. A story that details generational trauma that’s deeply rooted in ethnic cultures can’t be understood by just anyone after all. This time, my story will not be yours to claim. I’m not really seeking your approval anyways.

I will write about Korean-American characters. I will write them with the Asian American friends they had growing up. If race is stopping you from enjoying a story, like an actress being cast as a mermaid—AKA, A MYTHICAL CREATURE THAT DOESN’T ACTUALLY EXIST—that’s ok. But I wish this vocal group of people would be more honest, because it’s never been about the film being an “unfaithful adaptation” or how it’s “inaccurate” to the original. Instead, it’s just someone trying to justify their own bigoted, “fancy” arguments laced with racism. Let people be happy. Let the little boys and girls enjoy seeing someone who looks like them on screen as the main character for once. Why should they have to hear “but you already have that princess frog story”? Why should I have to hear someone say that the affluent Asian characters from five years ago should’ve satisfied my inclusivity craving? That I, as a Korean, got enough representation with a superhero movie that stars a Chinese character? This isn’t just about filling the representation fountain with an overflowing amount of coins—it’s about caring enough to include all groups because that’s just how our society looks today.

So I’m going to write what I want. Marketability is one hell of a block to get stuck in when there will always be an audience for everything. Someone in the depths of rural Nebraska doesn’t like my story? Ok. A person in rainy Seattle downvoted my work? Sure. A random college student rejected my submission for one of the hundreds of literary journals I’ve submitted to? That’s completely fine. Granted, not caring about what others think is easier said than done. That’s why people submit to hundreds of literary journals and thousands of contests, because even if we won’t change the content of our writing, we still want it to be accepted. We still want someone to identify with our piece, to validate us, to tell us that this is fine—everything will be fine. But really, you shouldn’t worry too much, because I know there will be someone out there who wants to read it. And that someone doesn’t have to be you.


One thought on “I Will Not Write For You

  1. Even with the grim realities of the publishing industry today, and even with the flood of “content” competing for attention, and even with the average person’s preference for reassuring, undemanding, bias-confirming escapist reading, Jenna Kim, marketability should not be your problem. Especially if you do as promised go apeshit, which might set your writing apart, and if you do not expect to earn a comfy income with your writing (I think Robert Anderson remarked in the 1940s about writing plays, that you might make a killing but you can’t make a living).

    You live and write at a time when writing about struggling in this culture is highly sought after, as literary publications’ guidelines state openly. Yale Review used to be very stuffy and waspy, but check out their page now. Many very fine people will not ever read your work or mine, just as we do not read every fine novel or poem written by others.

    You and I can both name writers we know are truly great, but that we have not read, and don’t have plans to read. That literary journal that just rejected your submission? You already rejected their subscription offer, so it seems like an even deal. I hope that you do go apeshit, ignore ephemeral cultural noise, and develop an admiring readership, even if everything that you write is written for you and not for them, as everything that you write should be.

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