Ask yourself what you write; not what you want to write, or what you think you should write, but what you actually put on the page when you start working. Be brutally honest. What you enjoy reading and what you enjoy writing - or what you're good at writing, if you can separate the two - might be two different things. And when you find the answer to this question, you know what kind of a writer you are.
Being honest is hard. Not only can it suck to realize you don't live up to your own ideals, but being truthful and not cutting yourself down can also be hard if you're doing this exercise in a state of mind that's, ah, less than confident. It can be really easy to say, "I suck so much - I'm only good at (insert least-favorite genre here)" instead of looking objectively and solving the puzzle.
My puzzle was hard for me. I have varying taste in what I read, and I happen to be interested in some very academic topics which, when I consider them, seem impossible to write about. But I want to write the things I love, so I'm left with a dilemma you can measure by the space between the literary genre ("respectable") and the kind of fiction these interests lend themselves to ("not respectable"). And this is a dilemma because it seems the best way to honor these topics, so to speak, is to write something respectable. I'm coming to realize that is... not impossible, but extremely difficult. I went through my writing program grinding my teeth and refusing to bow down to the literary standard. (I question this literary standard, but oh wow, that's a long entry's worth of axe-grinding.) The assumption that genre work was inherently worth less irritated me, from close-range, for two years. Still, I internalized this notion that my work has to "mean something" and "be respectable," and have never asked myself what I want.
I like meaningful stories. I like fancy metaphors. I like commentary if it's on a topic I'm interested in.
I like to read these things. But do I like to write them?
I like reading super-complicated political fantasy epics. Can I write them? ... I am actually not sure, but I think I would enjoy it.
I like a good romance as long as it isn't about a damsel-in-distress, or, god forbid, a highlander. (No offense, just... I do not find that attractive. At all.) Can I write a good romance? Well now... I would have to ask someone else about the "good" part of the equation, but I certainly did end up writing a lot of romance, and I even enjoyed doing it. In fact, I seem to be unable to write or even conceive of a story that doesn't involve some kind of romance.
I like reading historical fiction because it examines the character of the people who moved the world in their time and place. Not sure if I can write that, because I haven't tried. This genre takes a lot of research, obviously. But it sounds like something I would like to do because it gives me the excuse to study something interesting and, if I love it, write about it!
I like mythology. I like rewriting myths, or basing stories on them, or writing sequels to them. The ultimate form of fan fiction, maybe.
Most of my stories, but not all, fall into the last three categories-- sort of. For example, the story about two angels who go down to earth to hunt down fragments of the Book of Raziel (as it appears in myths, that is) before their human opponents can find them and cause some damage; I started that story three times, and eventually ditched it each time because it's... what? Sort of an adventure, sort of paranormal, based on mythology nobody has ever heard of. It's silly fantasy fiction. And in my head, each time I try to write it, is this insistent desire to write something meaningful, to make it a good representation of the legend and the beliefs that inspired it. I'm not sure I can do that if I follow the opposite urge, which would be to explore the potential I see in these two angels that makes them seem more human. And, well, angels experimenting with human vice has precedent in legends too! And also in stories like Angel Sanctuary, which I kind of hate. Probably a series like Supernatural too, if I had to guess.
I don't want to write Angel Sanctuary, but I'm damned if my brain isn't determined to do it anyway. And if I'm brutally honest with myself, it would probably be fun if I could get over this kneejerk disgust at myself for not "taking the topic seriously." What that really means, I think, is that I have a loathing of not taking myself seriously and making myself look smart.
I've been told before I should just embrace this story and write it, and maybe I should. But I'm not in a place where I can appreciate the experience, because I still feel like I should be writing the next great literary novel. I have to cut that expectation out of my life. It's not what I want. Nothing - no fiction - I have written to date indicates a desire to be one of the literary greats, no matter what I say on my journal. But how do you get rid of that? How do you shut that voice up and square with the idea that you do not, in fact, want that, and it's okay? If it were as easy as "just don't listen to that voice anymore!" then I'd be done. The so-called inner editor might be a form of resistance, but it's an unconscious one; resisting your own resistance is hard.
So is writing what I want to write. I thought I was doing that already, but as it turns out, I wasn't.
This isn't to say I won't take my topic seriously in the sense of trying to represent it correctly. If I try to write a story set in ancient Japan, I will do my best to research thoroughly and write characters who are Japanese, with Japanese values, not white people with Japanese names. If I can find Japanese beta readers I will try to listen and correct myself when I get it wrong.
The angel story is a little harder. History has blurred the lines between the legends which were sourced in Jewish writings like Midrash or Talmud, and what was appropriated for use by the Catholic Church. I'm not really educated on that topic. The stories I'm using are Jewish sources, and I frankly have no idea how to represent that correctly while my storyline blatantly contradicts a few basic values. Have the characters maintain the traditions I can, maybe, in a good light.
I guess that's an entry in itself.
A long time ago, I thought about majoring in history. The programs available to me focused entirely on European topics, so I gave up on the idea and decided to take offerings for other parts of the world, as they appeared. San Francisco State had enough classes to allow people to fulfill their Segment 3 requirements, which offered sections like Islamic Societies and Cultures, Women of Color in the U.S., and other options for other cultures; the semester before I left they finally created a minor for Southeast Asian Studies, but there was no such thing as a major for that field. I would've had to spend my time studying places mostly irrelevant to the cultures I was actually interested in if I decided to take the major anyway.
For a while, there, I thought I could be a researcher anyway, that there had to be a way. Maybe I could have figured it out. But I think I have to leave that idea behind too, because I'm no historian. Once I've done that it might be easier to leave behind the idea of writing something of literary merit - so to speak - and just try to write good stories instead.
It's hard to give up on things you have emotional attachment to. I haven't been harboring a secret hope that I'd magically get to start writing history papers, but it was there in the back of my mind, poking at me. It's more respectable to be a scholar than to be a writer. Too bad I'm not.
Funny, to look back and see how indecisive I was in college, even though I knew deep down what I wanted to do.