Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Be Yourself

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ~ Oscar Wilde
This was the status update on October 31st (Halloween, get it?) by the amazing Dinty W. Moore. Dinty Moore wasn't the first editor to select one of my short stories for publication, but he was the first one who was totally, utterly, completely unconnected to me and still chose to include my story in his anthology, Sudden Stories: A Mammoth Anthology of Miniscule Fiction. My creative writing students at the time giggled at both the title of the book and Dinty's familiar name. ("Are you sure it isn't one of those scam presses?" one of my students asked, genuinely concerned for me.)
It wasn't a scam. Dinty is a well-respected teacher and writer, but it is his status updates on Facebook that consistently keep me in awe. And his keen eye for beautiful photographs.
So, Dinty posted this quote by Oscar Wilde, and it was like a dose of medicine.  Not the bitter-pill kind of medicine, but the warm Theraflu-kind on a cold winter's night. I'm juggling a LOT of things these days. I've got 2 fiction manuscripts (one adult and one YA) and 1 novel (Song) out to agents right now, and since talking publicly about submissions is not something we writers do, I won't say anything more. I have another (4th) completed manuscript that I've still got in the drawer simmering a while.
In the meantime, I'm reading YA novels voraciously, reading multiple blogs on writing and the publishing biz, and oh yeah, teaching English at the university. Sometimes I get swept away by all the advice from writers and agents on the web. I get bluesy in this big world of publishing with the jillions of fishies (with completed manuscripts tucked under their fins) in the sea. My story's a cross between so-and-so and sew-and-sew; I must pitch my story as such-and-such genre to even have a chance of being read; write BIG, write BIG! All this advice can make a serious writer feel very small.
Of late, I've had many a heart-to-heart conversation with my partner. These scenes consist mostly of my asking Hervé why and how and what questions about my manuscript revisions, and he offering advice that I largely ignore.  Then I realize he's right about practically everything, even though he's a brilliant scientist and doesn't read fiction.
Yesterday as I drove my partner to the airport, he gave me earnest advice and sounded a lot like Oscar Wilde: Trust yourself.  Be yourself. Great writers don't write like other people. You write best when you're not trying to please everyone. Pay attention to your craft.
Yes, we had the ensuing debate that begins, "But what about my audience?! I'm writing for an audience that I must please! Who must buy the book! And for the agents, who must give their blessings!" Yada yada yada. But I know there is truth to what he told me. I've been focusing on popular formula and trends at the expense of my craft.  They are two entirely different things. I've also been obsessively comparing my characters, plots, and themes to other novels, as though they are the measure of my story's success.
So I'm refocusing this week.  Craft. Voice. Intuition.
And I am, once again, grateful to have such a marvel for a partner.

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