Once upon a time there was a wee Serena who read voraciously and created worlds for playtime, but swore she could never be a writer. The story of how she came to realise how silly that assertion was is another post (I’ve already written that one elsewhere). This is a story about how that girl went from a baby writer to the fledgling writer she is now.
The fledging process was a little bumpy, but isn’t that how it works? Of course, I might have made it a little harder on myself by flying repeatedly into the same walls over and over, but stubborn has always been a defining trait for me.
I’ve talked before about how much I love fanfiction, enthused upon the topic, at length. Fanfiction is, however, one of the reasons why my first steps (flights, if you will) as a writer were so . . . clumsy. The instrument of the reason, at least.
I’ve always believed – and often been told – that reading, reading much, and reading widely are of utmost importance for a writer. All my experience growing and struggling and occasionally (dare I praise myself) succeeding have underlined this. But I found that it can also be a pitfall – I let myself be too influenced by what I read.
That is, I didn’t just learn from what I read – and learn what I liked and what I didn’t, what worked and what didn’t, what sounded good and what didn’t – I let it influence how I felt writing ‘should’ sound. After all, if this is well-received, if readers like this and writers write like this, this is how things should be done, should they not?
Some of my very worst writing was done in that period. Much of it makes me cringe even to think of, and I try very hard not to look at it often (even though a good portion of it is still online, to my occasional chagrin). Of course, I would expect my worst writing to come from that general period of my beginnings as a ‘proper writer’, right?
But . . . I got worse after I had been writing for a little while. I emulated what I read, tried to use the same style and voice as I saw in those things I read. Even when my results were bad, or nonsensical. And often became more so in my somewhat hesitant attempts to go with what was expected.
I mean no offence to fanfiction – see my earlier assertion and many things I’ve written about it before, I love it – or to the themes, tropes, and clichés so often used in it, but . . . there is a vast well of very, very bad fanfiction, and even more that is . . . exemplary of the baby steps of fiction writing. These are not the shapes I should have been struggling to make myself fit, and for a time I crippled my own wings trying to make my stories and ideas into what is ‘expected to fit in’ within those spaces – instead of trying to write as suited me and made sense to me, and making my own varyingly clumsy and terrible mistakes.
When my writing turned out in ways I didn’t like or found fell short of what I had wanted, I blamed myself for not being good enough and kept trying to make my voice sound more like the chorus around me. Structurally and plot-wise, both.
My writing became so much better even as soon as I started making my own mistakes, rather than being silly and using others’ mistakes as templates. Or even others’ well-written stories that were unlike me. Granted, the writing from that particular period of my development often still makes me wince as well, but less so – and there are phrases and pieces in it that still make me proud, or ideas and plots that make me want to polish them and write them over, better, now that my writing is less clumsy.
That is much better in itself – that is why speaking in my own voice, my own words, is so important. How can I be any kind of writer if I’m too afraid of not writing what readers will like, what they’ll expect, to write what I want to write? What I can write?
It was hard, and anxiety-inducing at times, to find what words and ideas were mine, teaching myself again how to shape things without looking to an outside template but only to what seemed right to me, but it was critical to me. It was worth working past those anxieties and risking posting things that were even outside ‘that’s how this type of story goes’ in the fanfiction realm.
I don’t believe I’ll ever be ‘done’ finding my voice, and certainly not with making my own mistakes, but those were the most important steps to ‘becoming a writer’ for me – if I can say such a thing as that I’ve ‘become’; rather I still am ‘becoming’, and hope to be doing so for a very long time.
I’ve come far enough to know I have a style of my own, and to never want to let expectations or what I’ve read make me change it. Influence me, yes, but not mute my own voice.
I’ve also come far enough now to know some of my strong suits – I love novel-writing, and I am good at overarching plotlines, but where I’m strongest is in short fiction. (Probably due in part to immense amounts of practise.) I’m strongest in fantasy and supernatural genres – they’re my home territory, where my oldest strongholds are built and from which I launch exploratory assaults upon new genres (such as science-fiction, or contemporary, or thriller). I’m most comfortable weaving a romance (or other heart-driven) storyline or background through my main plot.
I’ve gotten comfortable with where I write and with venturing from there, because for as much as I’ve heard the advice to ‘find your niche’, I don’t necessarily think it’s always good advice. I think somewhat better advice I’ve received is to figure out your strengths and comfort zone and work outside of them as inspiration and desire lead you.
I also know I’m capable of writing to a prompt or guidelines, and I’m ready (or I pretend that I am) to try sending my work out into the world, into open calls and submissions.
That’s a goal I’m working towards now, and it admittedly fills me with new anxiety – I don’t know what I’m doing, I am well aware, in the basics of sending my stories out there to stand or fall on their own. I’ve never seriously done this before, and I know just enough to be wide-eyed and nervous over the process.
But I want to try. It may not be likely that I’ll get a result other than rejection letters (I know this) but I feel like it’s time for me to try it and I feel, if I push down the self-conscious part of the anxiety, like my work is ready for this step.
I don’t expect to stop feeling afraid or anxious, but perhaps someday that anxiety will take another step – perhaps I’ll be confident about the things I’m doing now, and will then be working from that base towards something else I am just as nervous over doing. That sounds like writerly progress to me!
None of this means my ‘answers’ are right, or that I’ll be successful from here – heck, I don’t even know exactly what ‘successful’ would look like for me. But I feel like I’ve found the path that will at least take me further forward from where I stand.
Even if that path feels a little shadowy, leading through the haunted woods beneath a dark sorcerer’s tower, and like it might be prone to rearranging itself without notice.
(See, I said fantasy was my home territory.)