My writing tends to be a little different from a lot of the “modern” writers of today. I grew up in the country, and I have always loved older authors, such as Louisa May Alcott, LM Montgomery, and Gene Stratton Porter. To this day there are very few modern writers I prefer (one of the exceptions to this is Laura Hillenbrand, but I will discuss her more in later entries when I talk about fiction vs creative nonfiction. So far I am just focusing on fiction.) So my writing tends to sound more “old-fashioned”, and my values may seem rather outdated.
Going to a large liberal arts college, I faced plenty of struggles because of this. I read many of the more modern authors in my many creative writing classes, and most of the stories my fellow students wrote were patterned more after them. My writing definitely stood out– it was different, even when, as discussed in my last entry, I tried not to let it be.
These experiences really caused me to think about my own identity, as far as who I am and what I want my writing to look like. I guess every author has to do that for his or herself at some point. I realized my writing was different, and probably was always going to be different. That didn’t mean it was bad; it meant, perhaps, that my work would find a little different audience. But was I willing to toss aside who I was simply to please the masses? To write stories that were not truly from the best that was within me, simply because I tended to be “different” from the people who were around me? Ultimately, I had to make some decisions about what I wanted my writing to be about. I had to make some decisions about how I was going to let the comments of my peers influence me. As far as structure and format went, suggestions were welcome. I was interested also in comments about content, but those were the ones I had to decide to use, or not. Because some of them demanded I change the very heart of my stories– which would change the very heart of me. I couldn’t let that happen.
There is a short story I wrote from this premise. I wrote it without any ideas about trying to please anybody, or appease anybody. I wrote it from my heart. I set it in the country– I talked about faith– and I modeled the main character after real people, with values I personally adhere to. I can honestly say, that getting that story workshopped was really hard for me. It’s always hard, because my writing is so much a part of me, it’s always somewhat terrifying to let it go to seek it’s fortune in the world and see what kind of responses come back. This story was even harder, because I knew it was different from what anybody else had turned in or probably would turn in– but it was also my heart.
The responses were varied and mixed, but overall it was not received as favorably as I’d hoped. It was deemed unrealistic, the main character was “too perfect”, and the values too staunch. I tried, I really tried to implement changes in response to those comments… but I struggled with some of them. I finally set the story aside for awhile to let it simmer. When I finally pulled it out again, I had realized a few things. The “unrealistic” setting had been based on the place where I grew up– in fact, I didn’t even make any changes, I simply described it. So I didn’t feel I needed to change it, since it was actually a real place. The “too perfect” main character was being shown through the eyes of a man who was in love with her, so of course she would seem so! And the values? I adhere to those values. It was important to me that my character did, too. Perhaps all this made the story “less interesting”, but this story was my heart– and to change it would be false to myself.
In all of this, I realized another important lesson: just like I need to know when to let a story go, I also need to realize when to keep a story. This story still needs work. Perhaps for the very reasons I mentioned above, I am never satisfied with it– always changing and improving it. I can still find a lot of rough spots– places that need smoothing out. The flow still feels a bit choppy. Some of the descriptions need to be fuller. Some things need to be edited out, some details need to be added in. It is far from perfect. But I, as the author, needed to make some decisions about what advice to take, and what to let go. All of my life, I know I am going to need to do that. I will receive feedback, and I need to take what is good from that feedback and use it, and also let some of it go– but in the end, know what my story is supposed to say, have a reason and a purpose for it, and not let outside influences change that or make it less than it was meant to be.