As a writer, one of the things you probably hear the most is about how you, as a writer, need to find your voice.
And as a writer, one of the things you’ve probably asked yourself the most is, “What the heck does that mean?”
This very concept is quite confusing. And I have struggled with its meaning a lot over the years. And there’s this additional piece that causes me trouble, it’s that when you talk to people in the industry, or read their suggestions on how to sell books, it becomes incredibly important to consider your marketability as an author, possibly more so than it is to actually write something good. So, at the same time that you’re hearing about needing to find your voice, you’re also hearing about how you need to do X and Y and don’t forget about good old Z in order to be a writer.
But, do you know what finding your voice truly is? It’s knowing that X, Y, and Z don’t matter.
I’ve been asked countless times by young writers (of all ages, young referring to how long they’ve been writing) what it takes to be a writer. Now, what is typically actually being asked here is “What can I do to make money as a writer?” And in that case, it might be important to follow X, Y, and Z. I honestly couldn’t tell you, because I don’t make money as a writer. But I do know folks who do, and they generally follow all the rules. They do so to such a degree that they will discount anyone who doesn’t follow the rules.
And, between you and me, their books are usually incredibly lame. Like, they might have exciting things that happen in them, but their characters all feel like the same characters we see everywhere else, their plot points are revisions from famous movies and tv series, and, most importantly, there are almost no surprises to be had when reading them. That’s not to say that the books aren’t exactly good…they’re just not that much fun to read. There’s nothing new. Nothing truly unique.
Because that’s what finding your voice is. It’s finding what makes your writing uniquely you. And generally, you’ll find out, that’s not going to involve X, Y, or Z.
And I’m going to tell you right now, I think X, Y, and Z are the worst things that have ever happened to any artform. Some of the most amazing pieces of art, whether writing, music, film, visual arts, or whatever, are the ones which ignore the rules and forge their own paths forward. This is what art is supposed to be, an expression of oneself. This is what your voice is, it’s you learning how to express yourself through an artform. And considering those rules were written for someone else’s form of expression, that means it’s highly unlikely that those rules will mean anything for your own expression.
So, if your self-expression is full of adverbs, use as many damned adverbs as you want. If your self-expression is to tell a big crazy story of exposition that explains every single thing that has happened up until the point your story begins…well, Tolkien has your back on this one.
The point is, it doesn’t matter what the rules of any artform are, because the best versions of any art we have today broke those rules to exist. They were purely extensions of the creator themselves. Their voice.
My books don’t sell and I’ve struggled with that over the years. I know a part of it is because I’m terrible at marketing, but another part of it is because I’ve long since given up on following the rules. I write what I feel. I write stories that express a part of myself. And it is so much better for my mental health when I do that than when I try to write something that fits into some other mold.
That doesn’t make it that much easier when someone comes back and tells me “You’re not supposed to do this in a book”, but also, in some ways, I guess it makes me feel that much more punk rock about the whole thing.
Screw the rules, screw writing for money, write to create. Write to express. Art is your way of letting the world know who you are. And yes, it can be scary to make yourself that vulnerable and possibly face rejection from the people who read your books and decide it’s not good enough, but those people suck.
Don’t let them ruin your own pride in your own self-expression. Because you did it and they’re too stuck in the rules to notice how awesome that is.
Create for yourself, not for others. And maybe someday, you’ll be one of the lucky ones who has people realize just how awesome your creation is.
This message brought to you by an author who kinda likes breaking the rules.