"Do you think I will be able to write like Murakami?"
My friend Z said this to me. I've known her for a while; both of us with the shared love for words and books. She's writing her debut book and rued, "I don't write like the authors I like to read. I'm not a Jhumpa Lahiri, Murakami or anyone of the literary bigwigs I admire. I'm so ordinary.
Then there's Y. Warm, vibrant, cheerful and with natural flair for words; it's a pleasure to meet her. So Y is almost done with her debut book and a publisher has shown interest in it. I asked her to tell me more about her debut book.
Pat comes the reply. Oh! It's nothing serious. You know, just casual…you know…ordinary stuff… her voice trailed, shrugging her shoulders looking almost apologetic. I resisted the urge to box her ears but took a deep breath and dragged her to the far corner of the room.
My lecture to both friends was long and sharp.
Don't ever do that. Don't ever minimize your book. Don't ever call your book ordinary.
What you write is what you create and that can never be ordinary. It's your story, your words and imagination. Don't trivialize them. Yes, there are these literary giants who are awe-inspiring and intimidating with their virtuoso, with their flair. And may be what we write is ordinary in comparison but ordinary isn't something to be ashamed to. Every story is beautiful and precious because it has come out of a human mind.
Recently I read two articles which further cemented my thoughts on this.
First is by Michael Lewis – New York Times bestselling author of multiple books of nonfiction, including Moneyball and many others. He offered this sage advice on writing and storytelling.
Have the nerve to be yourself—you can't learn voice.
'You can't be someone else. The goal is to be the best you. Stop reading [other writers'] stuff, and comparing it, because it's going to be different anyway, right? Having the nerve to be yourself is very valuable. Even if you don't naturally have a strong literary voice, try not to sound like someone else.'
The second is an article by Cara Sue Achterberg on Twitter: http://booksbywomen.org/write-the-story-you-know/
A writer and blogger who lives in New Freedom, PA, Cara has three bestsellers to her name. She says:
'It's taken me over a dozen years to realize that good writing doesn't need to be impressive or use big words or have deep metaphors and heavy hidden symbolism. It doesn't need to be 'literary' or follow the format of a particular genre. It simply needs to tell an honest story. A story from the heart. My fiction writing stumbled along for years because I was trying to write like John Irving or Anne Patchett. But I'm not John Irving or Anne Patchett. I don't have their experiences or education. When I finally just started letting my heart pour out on the page and didn't worry about a stranger's judgment or a friend's shock, my stories came to life. They were fun to write and escaping into them became my favorite part of the day.'
This is so true. Yes! There are literary bigwigs that we admire and gush about. Idolize them, go crazy about them but don't make the mistake of imitating them. Nobody is interested in reading an imitation of Murakami & others. Cara further adds, 'More than the definition of the hero's arc or how to write a query letter, teach yourself to write from your heart. Be brave and don't let anyone – including yourself – stand in your way. Pour it all out there and follow the stories where they take you. Write your passion. Write what you know. Write your story.'
I couldn't agree more with the above words. Be brave and don't let anyone – including yourself – stand in way. Write with your heart. From your heart. Let it gush out.
I've written all my life; for publications and companies. I've nursed the dream of penning a book for years. The question that bothered me most wasn't when would I write my first book; it was what will I write. As a freelance writer I spun yarns for companies and their products but fiction eluded me. There was no story buzzing in my head, no seed that was gradually germinating. And then in 2014, in just 7 months I had the first draft ready. People have laughed, even smirked when I said this: the story chooses the writer and the time it wants to be written. Every story has its Destiny. When you write, just write the best you can. Tell the story that you'd want to read.
Don't think about what publishers want or prefer. What sells and what will make a bestseller. Just write. That's what I did. Some people told me that a marital drama will never sell. That only young college romances sell. I turned a deaf ear. I wrote the story that I wanted to tell.
When you do listen to the voice inside you, often a quiet murmur; it can never be ordinary. You aren't ordinary, neither is your story. I told both Y & Z the same.
Write what you love and love what you write.