How I Got My Groove Back

This is the super special sparkly awesome 1st content post of my blog! The actual 1st post is here, full of introduction stuff and at least one wondrous Tina Fey gif. Obviously, you want to go there. 

WARNING: This is a writerly post about finding your voice. All sentimental tropes apply. Cheesy metaphors WILL happen. 

When I first started taking writing workshops in college, I decided that I was going to be Serious Annalise who wrote about Serious Things and Like Life and Stuff.

Serious Annalise wore black turtlenecks and smoked in Paris cafes. Serious Annalise did not write about androids or aliens or old ladies living in shoes.

That was cigarettes in Paris, not milk on white linen tables

Give me a break, I was 18.

Okay, that’s not much of an excuse. There are tons of 18 year olds who do not think such silly things. Apologies to all 18 year olds in the crowd.

Let me rephrase: give me a break, I was 18 year old Serious Annalise, and I looked around at my workshops, and people were writing about pot and sex and horrible parents. Don’t misunderstand, these are not bad things to write about. I still write about these things. Come on – pot and sex and horrible parents! Sounds like a party.

But I was afraid that I would get laughed or at least politely coughed out of class if I submitted my talking dragon, so I tucked said dragon somewhere in a corner where the poor thing choked on dust and cobwebs and did not speak anymore.

There is a conversation here about why I thought that. A very old conversation, but a conversation that still remains relevant when great writers insist that they do not write science fiction, they just use science fiction in their fiction. Um, okay? By the way, I don’t write fiction, I just make things up. Lol hey over there!

Let’s table that conversation for now. For whatever reason, for multiple reasons, for reasons largely created in my own head, I was embarrassed of my talking dragon. Probably I could have submitted anything and it would have been fine, because honestly, people in fiction workshops are so paranoid about their own work that they’re not going to have a fainting spell just because you have, well, spells in your story.

So for two years of writing workshops, I wrote some horrible fiction. Learned a lot. Don’t get me wrong. But my stories were just…eh, meh?

In my third year of college, I actually didn’t take any writing workshops. Enjoyed the classes I did take, they were practical and all, but writing was not a priority anymore.

Come my senior year, I decided that I better take some writing workshops again. After all, my graduate school plans had nothing to do with writing, so this was my last chance, really. And I decided to do something a little different. Since this was possibly my last opportunity, I decided to write and submit a story about two robots – a story that had been banging around in my brain for years, but that I had never had the courage to actually write or submit to workshop.

So I wrote my little robot story. Polished it up. Submitted it to class with my stomach churning and my fingers still sticky with ink.

Then a funny thing happened.

Okay, no, people did not fall wildly in love with the story. They did not throw me a parade or vote me as Most Awesome Writer to Ever Write About Robots. (Hello, Asimov.) In fact, my recollection is that there was a lot of polite befuddlement, some critiques, some “Oh, but I liked this part. Do this more.” Pretty par for the course for anyone who’s ever been in a critique group before. My writing professor was very encouraging and supportive, because that is what good writing professors do, and I have been blessed with an abundance of good writing teachers in my life.

But here’s the thing.

I CARED more about that story than all of the previous stories I had submitted in my college career COMBINED, and the feedback electrified me, and I went back and worked on that story and I made it better. And then for my 2nd story, I submitted something about an alien and people liked it even MORE and I cared about it even MORE and I went back and made that better, too. And after years of feeling ‘Eh’ or ‘Where did I go wrong?’ about writing, THIS is how I felt about writing for the first time in a freaking long time:

In my mind, the winning streak continued for the rest of my senior year. I wrote about time travel and ghosts and some of it sucked but even the stuff that sucked MATTERED. Like, to me. Personally.

Here’s the thing. Stories that matter to you personally tend to be of a higher ilk than stories that don’t. Readers notice. They’re smart cookies.

Smart cookies

And I had an epiphany that Serious Annalise was ALSO Robot Alien Time-Traveling Ghost Annalise. That I was never more serious about writing about humans than when I was writing about robots or aliens or time travel or ghosts.

But that’s not even the point – had I only wanted to a write a story about three generations of women living in the same house (which was my living situation growing up, and this IS a story I want to write once I get a few dragons out of my system) but felt constrained for whatever reason, then I would have been doing an equal disservice to myself by stifling my own voice.

I just wish it hadn’t taken me 3 years to learn this lesson – a lesson that I believe most people learn in junior high.

But enough about me.

I want to hear about YOU.

Have you ever tried to hide your authentic self? In writing, or otherwise?

If so, how did that turn out? How did you handle it?

Have you ever been embarrassed to send out a story for feedback because you thought people might think the subject matter was silly? How did you handle that?

And finally, have you made any profound realizations about your writing style or thematic choices?

How would you characterize your own voice?