“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
The good Dr. Seuss must still be loose in my brain: when this quote came my way, it really struck a chord with me. It seems as true for our writing as it does for living. here’s why:
It’s about safeguarding our spontaneity: So often, when we start out with an idea for a story or novel, it feels fresh-born and we’re excited about it. It’s like a bright, glittering gem that we hold close to our hearts. We feel it’s wholeness. And then, somehow that freshness seems to leak away.
We start thinking and worrying about what other people will think about it. Will they understand it? Will they like it? Will they see what we see? Will they think it’s clever and original? Is it on target? Trendy enough, marketable enough?
And with all these questions about what other people out there will think about our work — whether it’s our critique group or submissions editors or agents — doubt about what we’re doing and striving for starts to creep in. Now don’t get me wrong — this happens anyway, it’s part of the territory, because as writers, part of our job is to constantly question and reshape what we do.
But when this questioning arises from within us, it springs from our innate desire for excellence. It’s more about honoring our creativity and making our writing stronger, truer, deeper, than it is about satisfying some externally generated impulse or vision about our work should look like and its value.
Sometimes, what we’re doing is clearly bucking the trends we’re seeing and reading about. What we’re doing is totally in synch with our inner promptings, but it just seems grandly, even extravagantly, out of synch with what’s out there and what people are saying that people want to read. When this happens, it’s so tempting, so easy to fall into a black hole and to massage our work this way, tweak it that way, or dress it up a little, so that we can shoehorn it into that seemingly more acceptable pattern.
I’ve wrestled with this in writing my children’s novel. Since my genre is in a sweet spot in the book universe, there’s an ocean of ink being spilled about what kids want and what the publishing world wants. Sometimes it’s been tough to resist putting my story in service of all this, especially when crafting my opening pages, since they are so critical. Sure, I’ve rewritten my opening many times and gone through several major revisions — that’s the name of the game. But over and over I’ve aimed to keep in mind and heart the kind of story I felt called to write — the kind of story I wanted and had to write.
Charles Pratt, founder of the world-famous art institute gave his fledgling enterprise this inspired motto: “Be true to your work and your work will be true to you.” Let’s emblazon this on our hearts — and write on.