Staying True: A Writer’s Guide

Writing is a crazy thing. It’s exhilarating and at the same time spectacularly good at jabbing fingers into the open wounds of your inadequacy. Why can’t I write like that? Sell books like that? Have people weep over my words like that?

Why indeed?

Let’s say you’ve written something that even friends say is crap. Do you give up? Go learn how to play the flute? Pick up a gun and head out to the landfill to shoot rats? (I know, that was a weird one. Blame the horror writer in me.) If you love to write, then yeah, you might do all those things but you also go back to the crap and fix it. You tinker, you toy. You tease out the shiny strands of gorgeousness and brush away the snarls.

Let’s say you like writing about hair dressers and the things you have to say about hair dressers are funny, silly, and maybe a little wild and crazy. Then a long comes another writer who writes about hair dressers in a way that makes the critics praise them up one side and down the other for the depth they brought to those women and men of the Order of Scissors. And you sit staring at your own story, wondering how you missed the Deep Meaning behind hair styling.

Does this mean that your story has no value, because it made no one cry?

There’s this insidious idea that only certain works of fiction are worthy of notice. That those books written to entertain are not important, that they are forgettable. That they do not make people think deep, philosophical thoughts therefore they are trashy.

I’d like to posit a radical theory: that whatever resonates with you is great literature.

Not everyone is moved by the Grapes of Wrath or A Good Man is Hard To Find. Yes, they transport some people to heights of giddiness and that’s awesome. That’s what writing should do. It should transport, entertain, enlighten, and move people. Why, though, do we think only “literature” can do that for us? Or that it’s the only type of story that should?

We have this disease in our society, that we must denigrate and humiliate those who think differently than we do. That to feel smarter, we must point to someone else and laugh that they aren’t in the same spot. We do this deliberately as well as unconsciously with how we reference our own experiences and compare them with others that we feel are inferior.

The exciting thing about fiction is that we can connect with another person on a personal level. Even when it’s a story full of prat falls and silliness, we are getting a look inside another human’s head. Since we aren’t telepathic, we revel in the chance to roll around in another person’s thoughts. We are all alone in our heads otherwise. Reading gives us an open door into someone else’s head for a while. It’s a blessed relief. And touching that other mind changes us in small ways. We form opinions of that other person’s thoughts and reject or accept them into ourselves.

Literature isn’t the only form of writing that does this. Romance does it too. So does horror. Thrillers. Mystery. Suspense. Erotica. Yeah. All of it. To varying degrees, the books we read change us. Who are you to say your formula romance won’t affect me in a way The Old Man and the Sea never would?

My mom read Louis L’Amour all her life. She loved him and would get pissed off if someone suggested that he was a hack or that his stories weren’t important. She took his stories into herself and they resonated within her. When a snotty professor said, “That type of writing is junk food for the mind,” he was telling my mom that her experiences were wrong, that her feelings were wrong, that the connection that author had made with her was wrong.

There will always be people who don’t like what you write, who say it’s shallow or silly or unworthy of the paper (or electronic storage space) it’s taking up. Please know, that for everyone of them, there will also be someone for whom your writing sings. Writing doesn’t have to be deep to be resonate. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be exactly what someone needs at that moment.

People will always hold up certain fiction as better and you might agree. But it’s also okay to like what you like and if that’s cozy mysterious with feline main characters then that’s okay. Let Hemingway write outwardly about Hills Like White Elephants while whispering about abortion. That was his thing, his reality. You write what you need to write about, what you enjoy, what moves you.

We aren’t all deep thinkers or metaphorical thinkers or philosophical thinkers. Some of us like sex scenes and physical comedy and fart jokes!

Stay true to who you are, to the writer you are–not the writer you think you should be. Be the Fart Joke writer if that’s who you are and honor that about yourself. Be the Funny Romance writer if that’s what makes you happy. You can try to be someone you aren’t but I can guarantee it won’t ever feel as good as being yourself.

Louis L’Amour wrote about the West because that’s what moved him and he found a large audience who thanked him for being true to himself.

Write from your heart. Stay true to who you are and you’ll touch someone’s life.

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