Monday, January 20, 2014

Inspiration Monday: Don't Fence Me In

Lately, I've been talking to one of my friends about his writing journey. He is an idea man, and a good one. He has laid out for me several times his plan for a sprawling epic fantasy novel that would probably make Game of Thrones seem like A Series of Unfortunate Events. I hope he writes it someday, because I'm already dying to read it.

He hopes he'll write it someday, too. He's trying, he's practicing, he's doing all the right things, but he keeps getting tangled up in his own feet. More specifically, he has fenced himself in.

In our last conversation, he mentioned that he feels he is weak on his ability to write description. "I have read a lot of books, and I can't do what real writers can do. I just don't have the vocabulary for it," he said. "I don't know the right words for everything I want to describe."

I can vouch that his vocabulary is fine. He lacks nothing to becoming a writer except confidence.

I've made the same mistake as my friend, and I will surely make it again. I think all writers do this--we compare our work to others and find it lacking. We compare our work to the image in our heads, the ideal, and we find it lacking there, too. We look at the watered-down word soup on the page, and we think we are not really creating, we are making literary mud-pies. Who would be interested in reading this? How do I do it well--no, how to I do it right?

When it comes to writing (or any type of art, really), we have an open field. We can do anything. There are rules, sure. Most of those rules are there for good reasons. They give us the structure we need to climb higher and strengthen our muscles. Beyond rules, there are expectations. Readers expect a mystery to read differently than Songbirds of South America, and they don't open a new literary fiction novel expecting the same wordy Victorian style as Pride and Prejudice. (Except for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.) Expectations, like rules, give us something to stand on, but they also give us something to play with. If we become afraid to do that, the gate closes behind us and we're stranded in our own corral.

My friend is caught up worrying so much about his inability to write like the authors he admires that he is paralyzed. "They're well-known, they get paid to do this, they made me love their work, so surely they're doing this right and I am doing it wrong." He is sure his work is so eaten up with fatal flaws that it is probably not worth saving, and he doesn't trust his own eyes.

It saddens me that my talented, intelligent friend has lost himself inside this box of expectations and absolutes where there is so much waiting to be discovered. With his ability to craft mythology, he has a whole fantastic world at his fingertips. He's just too afraid to open the floodgates and let it loose. What if he does it wrong?

Black ink on a white page is not all there is to writing. In that humble vessel lie infinite possibilities that come in all colors. There is not a right way and a wrong way to write your story. It is yours, as unique as your fingerprint. If you gave your favorite idea to any other writer, he or she would not be able to write the story you would have written. If it is to be, it has to come from you, and you have to get it out of your head and on the paper. There is nothing you can do in writing that you can't easily undo, so why not test your limits?

Don't let fear, rules, and expectations fence you in. They're just part of the landscape, and there is plenty to explore.

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