When I was in eighth grade, I had really bad hair. It was thick and curly and I had no idea what to do with it. Worse yet–I had swimming first hour. This meant that no matter how semi-normal I was able to look when the first bell rang, by the second bell my hair had taken on a life of its own, expanding to something three times the size of my head.
Why do I tell you this? It’s a metaphor for writing.
The fact is, we all start out with the raw materials but somehow, in the beginning, we’re awkward and gangly. We don’t know what to do with ourselves. Then someone (probably Mom) comes along and says the most paralyzing words in the universe:
“Just be yourself, honey.”
If you’ve survived Junior High, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The oft-repeated phrase, Just be Yourself, only compounds your insecurity problem because (1) you have absolutely no idea who you are; and (2) you are now convinced that everyone else has it figured out, and you’re the only one lost and wallowing in an apocalyptic identity crisis. (Bear with me. I’ll get to the writing soon.)
So you start to experiment with different versions of yourself to see what sticks (preppy, goth, cheerleader, Bohemian, egg head, motor head, Dead head, pot head), successfully achieving one thing: a photo album that will make your future children wet their pants.
For me, however, I achieved one more thing: I learned not to be afraid of experimentation. Which was a good thing, because when I started writing seriously I had no idea what I was doing. I had a lot of raw materials: a great idea, a firm command of subject/predicate, and an overactive imagination, but no idea what to do with it. With no clear direction, it was like Jr. High déjà vu, all over again. So I did what I’d done before: Experiment. [Read more…]