Don't write someone else's book.

No, this isn't a post about plagiarism, although that's an interesting subject.  This is about an obvious writing lesson I really had to learn the hard way.

Writers are told to read widely in their chosen genre/age group/subject matter etc, so we know what's out there, what's been done.  I touched on this briefly in an earlier post, but that can be a double-edged sword for people, like me, who tend to accidentally pick up on style and let that color whatever I'm writing.  I know enough now to steer clear of things where that's a risk.

Unfortunately, for a long time that didn't stop me from doing it intentionally.  I have this project I've been working on for...a long time.  I've redrafted and reinvented this thing more times than I can count.  I'm determined to make 2012 the year I'm happy with it.  And for years (not kidding, years) I've told myself that it's a specific kind of book and so it needs to have a specific kind of voice.  I've fought with my protagonist, my supporting cast, my villains.  I've been thisclose to throwing my computer out the window and abandoning the idea completely, but I can't because I love it too much.

2011 was a busy year.  I wrote a different book, did several rounds of edits, found an agent, edited some more, CODA went on submission--and that's just the stuff related to that one book.  I have a Real Life that demands attention, too, just like everyone else.

I was tired of fighting Secret Project.  For a while at the end of last year, the temptation was again there to abandon it, but fuck that.  In one of those moments of bizarre lucidity that only come from some form of exhaustion, I finally saw that there's a different way to stop fighting.  I can just write like me, and let the damn story be told the way I want it to, the way the characters have demanded from the start.  Yeah, there are some rules that I need to adhere to, like not swearing up a storm in a MG manuscript, but I'm allowed to use my voice.  I don't need to use the voices of the writers whose ranks I hope to join with this book.  I'm allowed my style, my fun.

And it will be better because of that.

I'm wide awake now, and I don't think it's the 4,876 cans of diet coke.


J.S. Schley said...

That's such a key thing. I had, for a long time, struggled with my voice--it seems like every YA book has a snarky, witty protagonist who somehow manages to save the world. But the thing is, I'm a literary writer, and my books need to sound like the way I write.

So it's just been a matter of batting the ball into the right field, and much to my surprise, my literary novel with the nerdy high schoolers has gotten a lot of nibbles. Working on my first agent-requested revision right now (pre-signing, but she had some great suggestions and I'm going to have a better book even if I don't end up with an agent.)

So much of professional writing is just having confidence in your own work. Good luck with the cease-fight!

Emma Trevayne said...

Thanks! I agree a LOT of it is self-confidence, and learning from past mistakes--and past successes. I was frustrated by not feeling the natural carefree-ness I felt while writing CODA, and knowing it's because I was so confident in the CODA voice was an important turning point for this one.

Good luck with your revision and agent-hunt!


Ali Trotta said...

Excellent, excellent post. It's all about finding your voice and telling the story the way it needs to be told.

So glad that I read this. :-)

Post a Comment