Nuggets in a heap of stones



There’s a website called “Blogs Just In” that tracks blogs in sixteen categories: art, books, divination (!), gadget reviews, gardening, and so on, including Writing & Publishing. Twelve blogs are listed in Writing & Publishing, mine among them, though I don’t recall how TBUHB got there. TBUHB has some excellent company—Jungle Red Writers, Jane Friedman, a couple of others—as well as some less-good company.

However, even in the less-good company (the stones) there are useful bits to be found (the nuggets). Two valuable sentences resided in a strictly…hmm, what’s the right way to say this?…nonprofessional blog called The Write Practice. (That’s the link, but if you like The Book Under Her Bed, I suspect TWP won’t be for you.)

The sentences I found in The Write Practice were these: You need to ask this question every time you sit down to write. How can you make your writing more you? 

This reminded me of a conversation I had with Girl Group member Barbara Ginsberg, who is writing a riveting memoir. In this Age of Memoirs, no memoirist can help but ask, Why am I writing a memoir when there are so many memoirs already? Why would anyone want to read another memoir?

This is like asking, Why would you want to write a novel when so many novels already exist?

If you’re a serious writer, you write what you need to write. It’s not your job to scour the market, find an underserved category, and write for that category. It is your job to find your originality and write it, whether it’s memoir, fiction, personal essay, or anything else. It’s also your job to be responsible for and to your talent, to foster your thinking, to improve your skills constantly, and to do your work.

How can you make your writing more you? is an important question. It suggests its opposite: Why is your writing not you enough?, an even more important question. Are you trying to sound like some other writer? Are you imitating Hemingway, Mailer, Krakauer, Lethem, Grisham, King? Meyer, Rowling, Smiley, Erdrich, Lamott, Flynn?

These are writers who invested in their own visions and voices, who brought themselves to their work. They had no guarantee of success; no one does. But each had (or has) the understanding that what s/he had to say and the way s/he had to say it was the only possible way for her or him to write.

This is not to imply that you don’t learn from reading other writers. You learn a great deal from reading other writers; some of it goes into your toolbox and some of it goes into the garbage. All of it is used in the service of finding your own voice: “more you.” 

There’s another danger you risk if you don’t make your writing “more you“: you can find yourself writing in a generic manner that is uninteresting to a serious reader.

“Too generic” is a critique I’ve often invoked with clients and students—and one I’ve leveled at my own work at times too. Generic writing reflects a spectrum of writers’ flaws: laziness, shortage of ideas, reliance on other people’s work, imitation, obviousness, watching too much television and too many movies. Writing generically will people your fiction with stock characters—the Good Mom, the Bad Kid, the Nosy Neighbor, the Nasty Boss—and chewed-over situations, flavorless and boring. It will make your memoir just a history of what happened and to whom it happened.

What lifts any writing above the generic, the imitative, the clichéd is “more you,” if you have talent and originality. If you have talent and originality, they belong in your writing. More you.



FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Petunia’s Place, Fresno, CA

Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh, NC

Galápagos Books, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

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