My Biggest Writing Lesson

I’ve been writing since I was 14 years old, give or take.

I wrote my first real story as a Grade 9 assignment. I wrote it on spare paper that had a company logo of sorts on it, so I had to request an extension to write it out again on foolscap. This was all in the days of cursive writing. In those days, my hand cramped up frequently as I wrote and wrote and wrote. But it was all bliss. I was creating stories!

I never dreamed of making a living as a writer. Instead, I just wanted be a writer and write. It was the creation of stories that fuelled me. I didn’t care about being rich or famous. I didn’t want to be chained to a desk and feeling constantly pressured to put out the next bestseller. No, I just wanted to create, to feel the flow, and witness as the magic happened on the page.

Along the way, I did my share of skill development: workshops, classes, reading about grammar and syntax. I also had my share of heartbreak: being rejected countless times by publishers and agents, unconstructive criticism from friends and critique groups, and even constructive criticism that said I needed to write another way entirely.

The biggest lesson I learned was through the heartbreak (aren’t these usually the biggest lessons?).

I learned that what I wrote didn’t conform to ‘normal’ or market expectations. I tried to re-write to conform, to sell, to appeal. But this led me to such a feeling of emptiness. This way sucked all the fuel and magic and beauty out of my writing. It also sucked out of me all the enjoyment of writing.

I attempted to change me and who I was for someone else: the market.

I have heard many, many people who are writers or aspiring writers fear that their ideas aren’t original enough. I even have an uncle that tried to start a company that copyrighted ideas. Both, in my mind, are baseless. Why? It isn’t the idea, it’s what you do with it.

Vampire stories have been done to death (no pun intended). Is this why you shouldn’t write one? No. The world hasn’t yet read YOUR vampire story. It isn’t the idea that needs to be unique, it’s the WAY it’s told. And the way it’s told is unique if it is YOUR way.

You are unique. Your voice is unique. Only you can tell your story your way.

In other words, it isn’t the idea or story that’s unique; it’s the way you tell it.

Some of you may recall the “Telephone Line” game. Kids would sit in a circle. The first person in the game would come up with a simple short story and whisper it to the person beside them. Then that person would whisper it to the next until it was transferred around the circle. The goal was to transfer that story around the circle accurately. However, it never happened. Why? Everyone has their own perception and interpretation of the story. Each person focuses on something different in the story and then that focus is reflected in how they tell that story to the next person.

Every person’s perception is different; therefore, every person’s interpretation is different.

Self-publishing has been a boon. It is releasing writers from having to change who they are, from trying to conform to a constantly-changing market. It is allowing us to find our own markets (sometimes even making our own markets). It is allowing us to be ourselves and tell our stories our way. It is allowing us to maintain our our perception and interpretation, and be uniquely us.

My biggest writing lesson has been learning to trust myself, to allow myself to write what I write, the way I write.

I no longer worry about what the market is or isn’t doing. I no longer worry about whether or not my stories will sell. In essence, I no longer worry about what other people may or may not like about my writing. Some will like it and some won’t, just as some people like me and some don’t. That’s okay.

I write what I write the way I write it because no one else on the planet can write what I write. I am me and I do me the best.

Is this conceit or arrogance?

Nah. It’s just me finally realizing that being me is okay.

And it’s also me realizing that my value is my uniqueness.

Everybody talks about ‘finding your voice’ as a writer. Finding your voice is finding you and then being you.

As Cozy Carlisle in the movie “Dead Again” says:

There’s no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that.

Go find yourself. Be you.

Further Reading

Chris Guillebeau – Ideas are not enough

NY Book Editors – How to find your writer’s voice

Inc.com – 4 ways to find your unique value proposition

Molly Bingaman TedTalk – The link between personal style and identity

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