Tuesday, February 07, 2006

PH: Being Yourself

As I thought of how to word this blog, I imagined the reversal it might cause if I don’t say first of all, that I approach the matter with fear and trembling. But a dear friend has recently informed me that she thought that I thought I considered myself, well, not genre. It was a surprising revelation.

As we say in good Christian circles, can I just share?

I brand my writing as set in the South—broadly speaking, from-Oklahoma-to-the-Atlantic-Ocean-kind-of-South. Yet transcendent enough to keep to the mainstream. When I did that, I found my tribe. My readers found me, many far above the Mason-Dixon Line, and we love one another so much because we love regional settings, small-townishness, quirky humans, outlandish situational humor, but most importantly, big hair.
Having returned to school this year to deepen my craft, I was elated to find that most writers, like me, simply want to be better writers. There is a healthy mix of those who write for a genre and those who aim for a personal aesthetic, and some call that literary writing. That latter description is probably why it is so difficult to define what is literary, because the writer is reaching for something outside of convention. I’ve not met any writer who wants to diminish a reader through words but many who strive to engage, to inform, to enlighten, through genre writing or otherwise.

The fact is that whether within the framework of genre or through your own aesthetic, you can do whatever you want as long as you are being yourself.

There’s a good chance that if you strive to communicate story, whether you are pubbed or unpubbed, you have a story beating its way out of your very soul as we speak. We all have those few writers that we highly esteem, but under no circumstances would we want to try and tell their stories. There is no need in the book market for two Anne Tylers or a half-dozen Barbara Kingsolvers. I learned this simple maxim during my short and wobbly decade in business—if two of you agree, then one of you is unnecessary; the point being that what we bring to the world be it a business sense or our art, ought to be uniquely ours. No one can tell your story like you. Nobody’s seen the trouble you’ve seen. Or in the words of novelist Bebe Campbell, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine.

How you frame out your story authentically whether it is penned within the gutsy language of a secret underworld or set in the magnolia-strewn woods of Georgia, will be informed by your own life. I do disagree with those who say you should only write about the situations in which you are already firmly rooted. If that were the rule then what would we do with books like The Remains of the Day? To tell the story that only you can tell is to reach into your own life and pull out the things that transcend and help us reach more deeply into our own humanity.

Anna Quindlen in her wonderful little book Being Perfect thoughtfully suggests that if we were going to gauge our writing by other great works that we could conclude that there is no need to write another novel. All of the good ones have been written. “Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time ever has. That is, her own personality, her own voice. If she is doing Fitzgerald imitations, she can stay home. If she is giving readers what she thinks they want instead of what she is, she should stop typing.”
“But if her books reflect her character, the authentic shape of her life and her mind, then she may well be giving readers a new and wonderful gift. Giving it to herself, too.”

You are free to explore as a reader all of the genres and aesthetics while remembering that each story is merely a note to self—your story is waiting to be unleashed. When you are yourself, your readers will find you.

Patricia Hickman writes aesthetically quirky stories set in the South, but asserts that she can be herself without the big hair.
http://www.patriciahickman.com Coming summer 2006, Earthly Vows.


At 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Patty. Lots to think about. I especially appreciated what you said about giving our readers the gift of ourselves. Thanks for all the thought that went into this entry.


At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Patty. A thoughtful post, and hits very close to my heart. I began writing 14 years ago, and sometimes I still struggle with this issue of allowing myself to write like myself, for fear that if I continue to be faithful to that, then what I write will _never_ be published (too long, too genre-crossing, too-whatever). But I'm learning to counter that with, so what? I'll have had joy in the journey, and maybe there's some other purpose God has in mind for the stories He puts in my heart to tell.

I think I'll keep at it a little while longer. :-)

At 11:58 AM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

Thanks, Lori and BJ. Boundaries serve a purpose, so I'm not knocking them, but they ought not to be barriers. What if the first Christian author had been too afraid to glorify Christ through fiction because it was unconventional? Our entire faith walk is about crossing streams.

At 8:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Boundaries serve a purpose, so I'm not knocking them"

Yeah, my inner editor understands this very well, but I need to lock her in a small dark place until I get the first draft done.

Of course, she's liable to come out spittin' mad.


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