I saw this question go by on Twitter a bit ago and, as things seem to do at certain times, it really struck me. I can’t recall who posted it – if it was you, please say so and I’ll give you credit!
Some of you out there will be shaking your heads at me and joyfully proclaiming that you are not afraid. I know you are because some people said that back to me on Twitter. You write exactly what you want to write and screw the rules! Screw the critics, the gatekeepers and reader feedback!
Good on you!
I mean that seriously. It’s a great place to be. I used to be there and I miss it.
And probably “afraid” isn’t exactly the right word for what I feel at this point in my career. It’s more an umbrella sense of caution, of all the voices in my head, whispering as I write. With newbie authors I’ve often given the advice to throw people out of the room who are metaphorically looking over their shoulders. I think pretty much every one of us has to figure out how to overcome that in the early days – writing sex scenes that would shock your grandmother, expressing opinions your dad would have a fit about, starting a sentence with a conjunction which would have been points off in AP English. That’s a big challenge and not easy to do.
Then you get past that – you have to, if you’re going to free up your writing voice – and you write books and everything goes swimmingly for a while.
Until you find yourself writing book four of a popular series that straddles genres in a way that’s generating a lot of interest and discussion and suddenly new, different and LOUDER people are in the room with you. I’m hearing voices I never heard before about the marketplace, what my agent thinks, what my editor expects, what my author friends are saying, what reviewers identify as ways I need to grow as a writer or how I do or don’t fit within the genre. These voices are in many ways much more difficult to shut up because I have respect for their opinions. This isn’t my grandmother reiterating an uneducated attitude. These are smart people with intelligent things to say.
Things that can get in the way.
I heard this before, when I was a newbie writer, and professional writer friends advised me to enjoy that time. They said there’s a freedom to writing then that you lose later, when you have expectations laid on you from people like editors, agents and so forth. Naturally, I barely listened, caught up in my envy for their book contracts and success. But they were spot on correct.
I think it comes down to this – that I’m not always writing what I would if I didn’t have those expectations. Or rather, more accurately, writing what I would if I didn’t have those voices is more of a battle.
I want to write what I’d write if I wasn’t afraid, if I didn’t anticipate the reactions to the book it will become. So I’m focusing on this question. As I’m spinning the story, when I hit a decision point and the voices rise up, chattering about how other authors did it, what the market wants, what the award-givers will value, I ask myself how I’d do it if I weren’t afraid of their censure.
And I do that.
It’s an ongoing process. A lesson I feel like I’m learning anew every day, with every writing session. Maybe this is part of growing as a writer in this stage of my career – finding ways to stay true to my own storytelling in the face of more and more people having an investment in what I do.
Anyone else out there dealing with this? Any advice on banishing those voices? I’m open to advice!