I think the master storyteller was right when he said:
‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot’—Stephen King
King was referring here to the craft of writing; our use of language and the way in which each book we read and the writing that follows affects our voice. It may take on a journalistic lilt if we’re reading Hemingway or an air of luxuriance if we’re reading Wilde.
King’s idea is that with every new style and genre we are introduced to, we take from them the elements that please us until eventually, from this strange mixture our unique voice emerges from the din.
Perhaps it’s about working towards a certain confidence in ourselves where we’re sure of how to be, even if we continue to struggle with the common afflictions that all writers face at any level.
I’ve found myself thinking about this a lot recently, questioning: what is my style? How should I classify my work? I’ve even tried to write stories within specific genres, fulfilling their expectations to feel more secure when preparing work to send away.
Today I realised this was the wrong thing to do when finishing a draft of what started as a horror story. Because of my lapse in confidence what I was writing was really generic, uninspiring stuff that could have been any spooky story, anywhere. I actually fell asleep at one point!
The Point of Revelation
I was faced with two choices. One version was the clichéd turn of events that I’d planned or an unusual one which sprang to mind just as the character was about to open a door to the choice I’d made.
I realised that this represented something much bigger than deciding between two different resolutions, it was the question of: what kind of writer do I want to be?
The first felt secure, safe and genre-pleasing. The second felt like a wild animal, spiralling my neat little story into a new state of existence; causing chemical reactions that would fuse the ‘horror’ with other classifications.
I closed my eyes and I allowed myself to daydream about how the latter would affect the entire story.
The place it lead to was unconventional but also powerful, filled with new themes and a strong message. The realisation came when I knew it resembled nothing I’d read before. This was scary. I had no reference point and nobody to compare my work to. But then it occurred to me:
This is what originality must feel like.
How to Be Original
We’re all searching for originality in our own way, trying to do what nobody has done before. Yet we rarely prepare ourselves for the physical sensation.
It actually doesn’t feel great at first—I wasn’t dancing around the room thinking what a rockstar writer I was, rather, as though I was dangling on the edge of a cliff with no net to catch me:)
I thought of all the times I’d made safe decisions to avoid this sensation, when what I should have been doing was making a friend. I also realised that the ‘how to be’ that I mentioned before is not always a conscious decision.
It’s as much about taking calculated risks and letting your spirit take you where it really wants to go, because there lies your true style and true genre.
Reading and writing a lot as King says is essential in refining our craft and preparing the way. I now believe that discovering our unique voice also requires us to sometimes let go of the choices of the conscious mind; which wants to be a certain author today and another the next because it’s unsure of its identity and how the story should be classified.
Following the instincts of the deepest part of ourselves and writing a story we’ve never come across before might make us feel uncomfortable, but it’s also the secret to originality and discovering the writers that we truly are.
Putting the Story to the Test
With my new ideas, I examined each one and then looked at the piece as a whole to make sure that everything was logical in the story world. As long as it passes this test, I think we’re good to go!
So the next time I write and am struggling with how to be and what to be, I’m going to try and write as myself and ignore worries about the importance of writing within a certain genre. I’m going to embrace the uncomfortable sensation that no doubt comes with any kind of innovation and think to myself: I’m my style! I’m my genre! 😀
So have you ever experienced a crisis of identity? The times when you felt you couldn’t write because you didn’t know how to approach a story or where it would fit in the world? Have you ever
avoided taking risks because of fears that nobody will understand your work; worrying that it will never be accepted? Feel free to let it all out in the comments section below:)
Until next time,