No one can write like you, so why are you trying to write like everyone else? That is what I told myself after struggling in my chosen writing profession.
When I first entertained becoming a writer, I remember how much the works of Toni Morrison enticed me because I had never seen such powerful writing by an African American author. Therefore, I reasoned that if I was to become anything in this profession, then I had to become like–or better than–Toni Morrison. Unfortunately, no one can master (rather should attempt to master) prose like her, and my attempts failed miserably. Furthermore, when I shared my prose with my SCWW chapter group, they were not impressed. To them as readers, the complexity of the words took away from the simplicity of the story. I thought I had failed, and I had–at trying to be someone else.
When I stripped down the words and let the action and dialogue speak for themselves, their reactions changed as a result. I used the words that I wanted to use rather than finding the biggest, undefinable words to tell a simple story.
In my poetry, I applied the same principle. Instead of trying to fit the biggest words into stanzas, I took simple ideas and fit the best words around them to support the ideas and promote them better to readers. The results have been quite remarkable.
As writers, we struggle to find our voice because oftentimes we look at successful peers or idols and try to mimic their process. However, how can we be successful by simply becoming a carbon copy of someone else? A unique voice and allowing that voice to woo an audience like the Pied Piper take years for the majority of us. There is no secret formula. Although we may have writers who have influenced us (and we should), we should not expect to put on their garments like a Halloween costume and become them. We must stitch together our own garments with patience, rejection, and endurance to develop a grand wardrobe that readers and other writers will appreciate.
Finally, what I have found most beneficial to any writer remains the acceptance of one’s self. We cannot escape where we are from, who we know, or what has happened in our lives. The wealth in the treasures of our past can be a marvelous beginning at uncovering our individual greatness. It may be painful, but the reality rests in the reality of ourselves. It is time for us to tap into that reality and find gold. I say to fellow writers from all backgrounds: it’s time for you to be you!
Len Lawson writes poetry, short stories, and fiction novels. His poetry book THE VERY LEAST OF ME debuted at #1 in African American poetry on Amazon Kindle. His debut fiction novel CITY OF DAVID will be published in the summer of 2014.