In a weird bit of synchronicity, my friend Amy Rose Davis was talking about the need for a writer to be a reader on the same morning my friend Stina Lindenblatt sent me an email about coloring outside the lines when composing a query. Don’t see the connection? That’s because my brain works in weird ways.
Basically, Amy was saying that everyone encourages writers to be voracious readers, and at the moment she doesn’t have a lot of time to read. She needs to be writing. Stina was talking about mentioning a subplot in her query, even though conventional wisdom says not to. See the connection now? There are a lot of people out there in cyberspace offering advice on how to be successful as a writer. Much of this advice is contradictory. Some of it is wrong. A lot is just plain not for everyone.
I think what’s happening here is that folks are trying to come up with a perfect formula for being successful as a writer. Everyone is sharing their experience, hoping to help others. That’s a great thing. It puts us in touch with the information we might need. But it’s also a huge pit trap lying in the middle of our path to publishing. The fact is, there’s no One Road to success as a writer.
One of my biggest writing challenges has been trying to sort through all the information being thrown at me. It causes incredible angst because I want to weigh every bit of input and see whether it’s the truth, much the way I do when I get feedback from a beta reader or critique partner. Just because something is painful or difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do, and I don’t want to sabotage myself by dismissing something important. But I think I’ve been doing myself more harm than good because this process has made me miserable over the past five years.
As I was commenting on Amy’s blog today, an idea popped into my head. Yes, reading is a good thing for a writer, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to do it constantly. It doesn’t even mean you have to read a lot outside your genre. Maybe that will benefit you, but not doing it won’t mean you can’t be successful. YA author Michael Harmon published several great YA novels having only read two from that genre. Likewise, following the most generally accepted rules of query writing is probably wise, but don’t stress too much over it if you come up with something better. I’ve read many stories where agents requested a manuscript and eventually signed an author because a query broke the rules.
This issue can be addressed by looking at a few principles from Taoism. Some of my long-time followers will remember I touched on this topic a year ago, but I think it bears repeating. The first principle is we wu wei. It means “do without doing”, though here in the west we tend to translate it “go with the flow.” Another is P’u, the Uncarved Block. It states that things are best in their natural state.
We each have our own writing path. Some things that work for others will hold you back or prove so time-consuming and disheartening that they become detrimental. Do not think you have to accept any writing “truth” just because everyone on the Internet is holding it up as one of the 10 Commandments of Writing. Find what works for you, even if it goes against what the publishing world recommends. This will allow you to work smarter, not harder.
There is no guarantee that anyone will find success as a writer. But your best shot comes from being who you are, tapping into your unique perspective. Don’t let your original voice be snuffed out by all the experts who think they have the answers. They only have their answers. If you want to be successful and happy, you need to go out discover your own.