If I could offer just one piece of advice to young writers it would be this – Do it your way.
So often it seems writers, and I guess other artists too, are encouraged to fit in and adapt and be something they are not to get approval. It’s so tempting to try to give people what they want in an attempt to have your work accepted – we all yearn to be loved and wanted after all.
But what I would say is this – as a writer starting out, maybe with your first book or first story, all you have is your voice – that’s all. You have no reputation, no contacts, no nothing – only that voice. So don’t compromise it. Be yourself, be the best writer you can be.
Yes you will be stonewalled by publishers, patronised and ignored by agents, passed over in competitions. But that will happen to you however you write. If you try to fit in, compromise your style, be who you think other people want you to be, it will happen anyway – and it will feel worse.
Because there is something honest and right about writing the way you feel you can and should be writing. Even when you get knocked back you can be proud you have been true to yourself.
You’ve not gone in there claiming to be the next (insert famous author) you’ve gone in with your head held high claiming to be the very first you.
The whole business of metooism is so lazy – the way movies come in a rash with everyone having the same ‘idea’ at once. I was trying to think of a good example of this and I came up with the way they sell the rights to TV shows these days. If a show is a hit in one country they sell it in another – and make it not only with the same format – but they ‘cast’ presenters to pretend to be the characters from the early successful show. So the quiz show QI with donnish boffin Stephen Fry in the chair and ‘oik’ Alan Davies as team captain is sold in other countries who cast their own dons and oiks in the ‘roles’.
Similarly the motoring show Top Gear – based on three middle-aged men joshing and grumbling with each other and making ‘hilarious’ politically incorrect japes about foreign nations, has been ‘cast’ in just the same way. I watched ten minutes of the American version recently and, because in the original UK show one of the presenters is short, the US cast were pretending one of them was ‘the short one’ too, even though he clearly wasn’t and in fact was more or less the same height as the other two.
You get yourself in such a preposterous tangle trying to be something you are not. And as a writer it can lead you to produce work you don’t really believe in.
Hey listen – I was a newspaper journalist for more than 20 years, I know how to be a hack and churn out what is required to a deadline. But my creative writing has always been something which is, first of all, for me. And it should be that way for you too.
Don’t let them tell you who to be – you will feel much better if you achieve success on your own terms.