Approaching a blank page is enough to make any writer trepidatious, especially when it has been some time since they faced the demon. A myriad of obstacles present themselves, each of them with their own unique quirks and challenges. Plot, diction, character development and style become a web that can only be spun when every component takes as much precedence as the next.
So what happens when that blank page becomes a blank page before an audience? All too often, the web tangles.
Practicing art often comes with a penchant for imagining someone looking over our shoulder. “What will they think of this?” we might ask. Or, perhaps the worst: “Will they like it?”
With the internet, authors are given the gift of being connected to their readers more directly than any other time in history. For better or for worse, the ability to see immediate reactions to works via comment sections, reviews, or even emails, makes writers sense a overshadowing presence that can become difficult to ignore, even when they are writing offline.
Although the internet can offer a strong connection between author and reader, it is obvious that many writers, (especially younger ones who enter the scene firstly through online means), are suffering from this closeness. Before they have even pinpointed their greatest strengths and cruxes, they are affected by the knowledge of just who is going to see their works when they post them online, and oftentimes, it results in adjustments they might not have made. I am not speaking of grammatical errors or spelling (though it helps to feel under scrutiny when it comes to finding those) more so the style in which the composition is written, and the subtleties that appear as a result of an author’s personality.
A writer’s voice comes from the unique perspectives she possesses, and thusly the voice that belongs to her alone, given depth by the experiences of her life and the desire to impart some themes learned throughout. Any technical weaknesses that arise within personal styles can be dealt with over the course of countless hours of practice and unbiased critique. That is not something to worry for; the content, however, is. Weaknesses are not an indication of any flaw within the writer’s story, only the methods by which she crafts the stage to present it.
So, by all means, craft the stage you desire to present yourself upon, and turn a blind eye to any tireless presence that desires conformity to expectations or norms, whether they are imagined or not.
Many writers will alter their works to appease a particular audience or genre, modifying their prose not for the sake of perfecting their art, but for the sake of melding their idiosyncrasies to predesigned styles. Many fantastic examples of this are in contemporary literature, which is a genre rife with authors whom sacrifice authenticity for the sake of sounding “literary”. But that is an entirely different discussion (or perhaps argument, if I just got your quills to bristle). I recommend M.R. Byers The Reader’s Manifesto if you are interested in reading criticisms of some critically acclaimed bestsellers deemed “literary”.
Mistrusting our instincts for writing often sours soulful expression. Overtime, especially for writers who have been at it for years, it becomes easier to forget that our first, innocent steps to the page were inspired not by success or even the illusion of being accepted. Instead, we braved the white slates for the sheer thrill of watching our imaginations tumble, unabashed and without filter.
Instead of asking “Will they like it?” or “Will this sound artsy?” we should wonder: “Am I enjoying this?” or “Is this what I want to sound like?”
Books are catalysts for reaching a state of imaginative bliss while refracting the complexities of human nature; words become the tools, and sentences, the bridges that lead us to a place of transcendence. What makes so many books compelling is that every author’s technique is slightly different. These creations, when done well, beg curiosity, observation, and the reinvention of perspective from the reader, hoping that they go beyond the surfaces of each scene to delve into the spirit which inspired the piece. Drawn from cold observation, resonating emotions, or any phenomena between, art is an outlet where understanding and imagination join in a tango to display something beyond themselves.
Imagining eyes behind us when we write intrudes on our psyche as we delve into it, turning our decisions from what we think is best to what we think others will see as best. By doing so, a whole story can derail from its original potential, and by doing so, turn into something far less enriching—for both author and reader.
When a new genre, or a niche in a genre arises, say, the vampiric dramas that have sprouted up since The Twilight Saga, we see an emergence of hack writers mimicking superficial characteristics of previous pieces to entreat to a specific audience. There is nothing wrong with this kind of writing, only that it nearly turns expression into a calculated equation. It trades significance for attention. Again … nothing wrong with it. It is for each of us to make that decision. To find that answer, we only have to question ourselves: are we trying to connect to our audience, or sell to them? We can do both, but basing decisions purely off the latter is potentially disastrous.
Authenticity is the means by which a writer reaches out to those that their writing is, (and forgive my word choice), fated to touch. I use that word in the same way one might feel ‘fated’ to connect with a significant other. Just as we gravitate towards those who are similar to us or whose lifestyles sync with our own, so will our writing, demonstrating mirroring patterns of interaction. Our minds are in the words; our hearts are in the stories. Similarly, the reader’s minds are on the scenes, their hearts propose interpretation. So instead of indulging fears of rejection for the sake of acceptance by readers we’re not interested in touching, we should embrace our uniqueness to hone in on the audience who will adore our works for their vulnerable and honest passion.
A practice of expressing oneself unapologetically creates a consistency that both augments a writer’s depth (in both living and writing) as well as their style. Stamping down sincerity will only hinder growth, making the craft not one of expression but placation.
Beyond these themes of development is the colossal shadow that seems to haunt every aspect of living, but lacks no shortage of appearance on a writer’s page: fear.
A fear of nonconformity is powerful enough to push artists from indulging their intuition and embracing their own style, to instead fit their works into genres or previously accepted forms of expression. However, the most brilliant or ‘innovative’ works were not innovative nor brilliant for their conformity, instead for their groundbreaking, genre-shattering uniqueness that eventually corralled attention. The reason why people often fear nonconformity is because works that take a strange detour from typical genres are often seen as inferior or amateur during their conception. But need I prattle on about the countless writers whom became famous only after they had died, after the world had a few decades to finally appreciate them?
No, we don’t need to go into detail about them, because the entire evolution of any art lay in the hands of those courageous enough to go beyond what is considered status quo. A good writer studies what has been done in the past, using that knowledge to bolster their courage to deviate from norms when they deem it fitting. Of course, not everything that is deviant or rebellious by nature is exemplary. That is not the point. At the heart of this struggle is the practice of weaving art with technical precision, aiming for a personal, masterful product true to our own expectations. The idea is, if you happen to fall under categories of deviation, don’t ignore your instincts. Embrace what seems unusual, as it may very well just be original. Ultimately, it fosters potential for stories with variety, intriguing prose, and ingenious styles blossomed from the authenticity of their author.