I like to watch people, and as both a cop and a storyteller it becomes a necessary part of my craft and trade.
As I was walking into the gym a couple days ago, I noticed a guy in front of me that I have seen many times. On first appearance, he is nothing remarkable, but the entertainment value of this man cannot be overstated.
When he got out of his car, he had a normal gait, but as he got close to the building his arms started drifting out from his body in what we meat-heads call “I-L-S” or “Invisible Lat Syndrome” – a common affliction among idiots, where they hold their arms away from their body, thinking it gives them the appearance of greater size, when in fact it only makes them look foolish. Or perhaps like they are trying to fly.
Once inside the gym he started chatting with the front-counter girls. He pitched his voice a couple of octaves lower than it should have been and tilted his chin up, drawing his words out and making broad gestures with his over-inflated posture. What he was trying to accomplish by this, I’m not entirely sure, but I hope he continues because I think it’s hilarious.
As I walked into the gym to start my workout, and got over the recently witnessed hilarity, I realized something: this man was trying desperately to be something that he obviously was not. He had crafted a personality out of attributes that he thought he should show people, as though he were filling in spaces on a ‘paint-by-numbers’ portrait.
Whether he actually believed in his carefully crafted facade, or he thought he was tricking everyone around him, I am entirely unsure. As Mark Twain said, “We Do not deal much in facts when we are contemplating ourselves.”
The same thing happens, I think, in our writing. I’ve noticed this especially with people who are starting out in the craft, or with folks who are reluctant to take criticizm because they believe they’ve already achieved mastery.
First, they try and write beyond their ability; they use a bunch of two dollar words when a nickle will do because they think no one will want to read their story unless they can drop “ubiquitous” or “sanctimony” somewhere into the prose. Anyone can flip through a thesaurus and pick out a word with five syllables, but that doesn’t mean you’re using it right, or that it doesn’t look silly when it pops up in your narrative like a toadstool on a putting green.
Second, they write their story to suit a trend. Whether it be vampires, werewolves, dystopian teenagers who can kick your ass, or anythting else, they lose their individual voice – which is a thing of incomprable value – because they are trying to write someone else’s story. I’ve said it before, and I will say it several more times before someone convinces me to shut up about it: you have to write your story in your own, unique, awsome voice. When you do that, someone is going to want to read it.
Third – and just as important as using your own voice – some writers are unwilling to accept constructive criticism. (The operative word being ‘constructive’.)
I have been fortunate enough to have a dear friend who is a much better writer than me and loves me enough to give an honest appraisal of my work. The first novel I wrote absolutely sucked, and she told me so when she read it – although in slightly gentler terms. I didn’t want to hear it when she first told me, afflicted as I was with the belief that everything I produced was awesome, but I realized it was the truth. It was not until I was willing to accept the fact that my storytelling needed a great deal of work that I was able to improve it. It took a long time, and several hundred thousand words worth of stories that will never be published, but I got better – or at least I think I’m better, anyway.
When you are writing, just like when you’re going through your day, you don’t have to pretend to be something you are not. If you speak with your own voice, whether directly to people or to your readers through the page, the genuine value of it will quickly become apparent and someone is going to want to hear what you have to say.
Mean what you say, both on the page and from between your teeth, and someone is going to hear it.
As always, thanks for reading.