~ By Laura Florand
When Melissa first approached me about writing a post for this blog, I wanted to talk about craft. I wanted to talk about texture, which is one of my personal “things”. (I think it’s a huge benefit to authors to get out from behind their computers and go out into the world and absorb as much texture from it as they can, so that it will underly their writing. I could go on and on about it, but…)
But then I thought about how many times I’ve heard a writer say, “I came back from that workshop so inspired I rewrote half my work in progress” and how much that made me wince, every time.
Because I really don’t want to read what some other author told you to write, not even if that other author is me. If I want to read what some other author wrote, I’ll pick up her book. (Even if it’s mine.)
And I think that because of the exceptional generosity of so many wonderful authors in sharing their own knowledge and tips, and because of our own perfectionism and desire to “get it right”, to be the best we can be, and, of course, our own vulnerability about our work, that a lot of us fall into that trap: of writing and rewriting our work according to someone else’s model. Of trying to follow someone else’s established path. Because it works for them, we love their work, we want to be as successful, as good, etc.
And humans, you know…we can often be quite careful. Checking around to make sure we fit in with our social group, trying not to stand out too much from the pack. There are good reasons for that. It’s one heck of a lot safer, to start.
The problem is that there are about five million previous paths, at the very least. So from workshop to workshop, from book or post about writing to book or post about writing, we zigzag in place and never establish our own paths.
Which might be frontier paths, straight into uncharted territory. Where the going will probably be tougher, the money less easy, of course. So you may want to ignore me. That choice is up to you.
There are benefits to playing it safe. Definite, visible ones.
But I guess I’m saying that what I personally want to read is a love story, and a love story with a happy ending. It might even be a love story with a happy ending that includes hot sexy billionaires or Navy SEALs. (Actually, let’s take it as a given that whoever the love interest, I probably want him to be hot and sexy.) So it’s true that if you write a love story with an unhappy ending and it’s gorgeous or you write mysteries that are fascinating and compelling but don’t contain a significant (happy) love story, you still won’t end up with me as a reader. (You’ll probably end up with someone else, though.)
But I’d love it if you sat down and wrote the story you want to read, which, if you’re a writer, is probably a little bit different than all the other stories out there. (If you were getting what you wanted from all the other stories out there, would you really be compelled to write your own? It’s one heck of a lot easier to read someone else’s, I think we all know.) It may not be a lot different. It may be that little twist on a hot sexy billionaire story that came from your dissatisfaction with the other hot sexy billionaire stories you’ve read. But it will still be your story.
And you can’t write that if you’re too busy following everyone else’s advice.
Advice is helpful, don’t get me wrong. We’ve all benefited from it, and I think about most advice I run across at least a little. I’d be an idiot not to. But there’s a lot out there, and we can spend too much time following it and not enough time following our story.
So I’m not going to write about texture. (Although, if you’ll take my advice, ahem, I still think my grandfather was right when he told me, “Go live life first and then write about it.”)
I’m just going to say:
You’re a risk taker. I mean, for crying out loud, you write stories. You put your heart and ideas down on paper (or virtual paper) and put them out there for the whole wide world to read.
You are crazy.
You should probably be seeing a therapist about this completely insane thing you do.
But you don’t. Because it makes you feel sane.
So while you’re taking this insane risk, don’t spend too much of your time and energy trying to keep to the safe path. It’s too late for that. Sure, there are some safer ways across the lava field (desert? vast dangerous ocean?) of writing and publishing than others. Feel free to note where the birds seem to indicate the possible existence of an island ahead and keep an eye on the stars for your direction.
It’s always nice to have a healthy survival instinct and a dose of intelligence, after all.
But don’t try to do what everyone else does and go where everyone else goes, no matter how many different directions that sends you.
Don’t play it too safe. The only way to do that is to turn off your computer and go watch TV instead.
And you know what will happen if you do that. You’ll wish the story you’re watching had gone a different way, you’ll start thinking how that heroine would be so much better if only she showed a little gumption, you’ll start wishing the hero had done this at that moment, and…
You’ll be back writing stories again.
So you might as well go for broke.
It’s all right.
The worst thing that will happen if you get something wrong is that you’ll have to write another book.
Which is what you wanted to have to do anyway, right?
If not, there’s the TV option again.
In short, if you’ll take my advice…it’s to not take my advice. You go, girl. Explore. You can make your own path. And if not, if you screw up, if you find out your story tastes are weird and no one else likes them (which I doubt will happen), then you’re big enough to pick yourself up and dust off your skinned knees and try another path that appeals. Or keep going down this one a little longer to see if it gets better.
You’re off to great places. So you go. And enjoy the journey.
Laura Florand is the international bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen books, including the Vie en Roses series (Once Upon a Rose), the Paris Hearts series (All for You), and the Amour et Chocolat series (The Chocolate Thief). Her books have appeared in ten languages, been nominated for RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Book of the Year, received the RT Seal of Excellence and starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and been recommended by USA Today, NPR, and The Wall Street Journal.
She was born in Georgia, but the travel bug bit her early. After a Fulbright year in Tahiti, a semester in Spain, and backpacking everywhere from New Zealand to Greece, she ended up living in Paris, where she met and married her own handsome Frenchman, a story told in her first book Blame It on Paris. Now a lecturer at Duke University, she is very dedicated to her research into French chocolate. For a glimpse behind the scenes of some of that research as well as recommendations for US chocolate, make sure to check out her website: www.lauraflorand.com.