The sign on the building reads: Libros Inc. (fictional—any name or other resemblance to an actual company is unintentional and I’m really sorry.) A tall building, it’s the working home to five thousand of the brightest literary minds. At eight o’clock sharp, they each arrive wearing their navy slacks and blue oxford shirts. Those daring enough to have bodies that run a little cooler than others often have a navy cardigan as well. With simple, basic hairstyles and a company policy against anything other than a wedding ring for ornamentation, it’s a rather bland scene as they pull into their respective parking spaces, a startling number of them driving the same cars.
Yes, it does feel like the Stepford Writers, doesn’t it?
Once inside, they file away to their respective offices—glorified cubicles with doors and walls that don’t quite reach the floor or ceiling. If it sounds rather like a public restroom stall, you’ve pictured it perfectly. And, if they churn out similar content to the public restroom equivalent, it isn’t a wonder, is it?
Let’s face it. Uniformity works in limited situations.
I get why the military has to have uniforms, codes, rules. And yes, I get why it works for schools. I went to those schools that required some of the most hideous uniforms on the planet. Double layers of double knit polyester in the Mojave Desert? Yeah. Because someone thought THAT was smart.
But if all books were churned out in an environment that slowly repressed any kind of individualism, they’d all be the same. You want to complain about the “formulaic novel”? Well, this place encourages that!
You know, not all the employees started this way. Joelle over there used to wear the cutest cardigans—all bright colors with cute birds embroidered on them. She wore hand-knitted berets. With her pudgy face, her sparkling eyes, and the whimsical pink lipstick, you’d swear she wrote cozy mysteries. Nope, she once was the world’s scariest horror writer. Now her slashers slash at precisely the 25% mark as they should. Down to the word. She’ll cut a hundred extraneous words to ensure it. Her navy sweaters are as plain as can be and the pink lipstick disappeared long ago.
She isn’t the only one. Frank over there had tattoos and piercings when he came. They made him remove the piercings, of course, but eventually, he had his tattoos lasered off. He wrote killer humor. Now his humor is alive but not very lively.
Where am I going with all of this?
This week’s podcast episode is all about Preparing to Write. Some of us have these little writing idiosyncrasies that others might mock or ridicule. Ignore them. Be yourself as a writer. Let those writing idiosyncrasies shine. If you can’t begin working until your pens are lined up in perfect order like April, or you have your book plotted out like Clark, or you have a title—like me, use them!
If you get to the part you’ve wanted to write most and feel like stopping, stop! It isn’t weird to want to take a break then. Sure, you wanted to do it and badly. Sure, you have the coolest plans ever for it. So what?
If you can’t write without M&Ms, then buy stock in the company, and buy them by the caseload. Oh, and maybe get a treadmill desk or something. I personally want THIS ONE–>
Do you need to just sit down and write the entire book before actually sitting down and writing the book? Does your first draft need to be a combination brainstorm/outline?
So be it!
Maybe you need to plot out every detail of the entire series before you write that first line. Great. Do it.
Perhaps you need to create entire encyclopedias of your characters and series… your WORLDS. Why? Because otherwise, you’ll forget what minor character was married ad which wasn’t—not that this has ever happened to me! Do it.
Need to write standing up? Plot everything out in the car on a long car trip? Can’t write without head-banger music? Can’t write with any noise at all?
Look. The point here is that we get it.
We’re all unique. We have our little writing idiosyncrasies. Yeah, I’ll say it again. WE ARE NOT ALONE!
We write the entire book in first-person before switching to third for draft two so we can “get into the head of the characters” better. Maybe we can only write with our shoes on—or off. Or we have to hold up for four weeks and do nothing but pound out words—or we have to get out every day for a fresh perspective.
Whatever it is, whatever makes you unique, that is also what will make your book unique.
Because if we all do exactly as someone else does, we’re going to slowly strip ourselves from our work. And then, while we won’t be exactly the same as that other person—it’s not possible, you know—we won’t be US.
And no one can write like you. No one. So why wouldn’t you embrace you and write what only you can do?