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A Lesson for Writing and Life: Do What Works for You

by The Procrastinating Writer on July 23, 2009

courtesy of Ella's Dad

courtesy of Ella's Dad

By Jennifer Blanchard

I had a revelation a few years ago that I need to share with you all…You have to do what works for you.

Growing up I usually got flack for doing things “incorrectly,” like when my third grade teacher would take the pencil out of my hand and fix my fingers so I was holding it “the right way.”

Because of people like this, I forced myself to conform to how I was “supposed to do things.” I spent most of my life doing things “the right way.” The way I thought I was “supposed to.”

Graduated from high school, went to college, had a long-term boyfriend in college, was planning to get married after college, buy a house, have kids…wait, wait, back up a second…because I didn’t want all those things.

And I think it was right after I moved to California from Rochester, N.Y., to accept a job as a magazine editor that I realized I didn’t want the path that was laid out in front of me: The perfect boyfriend-soon-to-be-husband, the perfect job, the perfect suburban house with a dog and 2.5 kids. I wanted something else.

But because I was made to conform so early in my life, I thought it was wrong to do things differently or to want something different for my life.

Since that moment in California, I have done my best not to conform. I try not to be what people expect me to be, but what I want to be. I have five tattoos (4 of which are very visible), have had several body piercings and blue hair…none of which anyone really agreed with.

Even my family—the people I love and who love me—doesn’t really agree with my choices most of the time.

People still tell me I do things incorrectly (“That’s not how you wrap a present!” “Ew, what ingredients are you mixing? You don’t cook like that!”), but now I realize that sometimes, you gotta do things your way. Even if no one understands.

Writers, I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to do what works for you!

It’s important to follow the basics rules of writing, but don’t allow the rules to confine you. Think outside the box. Do what works for you and your story.

Your only limitations are the ones you impose on yourself.

It’s important to get constructive criticism on your writing. But don’t let the critiques tear you down, make you feel like less of a writer or ruin your story.

Yes, criticism of your writing is very necessary in order to make your story better. Yes, sometimes the people critiquing your writing know what they’re talking about or see something that you don’t see.

But that doesn’t mean you always (or ever) have to listen to them.

At the end of the day, it’s your story. It’s your hard work. It’s your dedication. Which means it’s your decision.

Don’t let the pressures of the publishing world or the world of editors and agents or even society as a whole stop you from being who you are and writing what you want to write.

Do what works for you. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.

Repeat that to yourself over and over again.

Let it be your reason, your navigation down the crazy path we call life.

Do not let others change you (and by others I mean: publishers, agents, editors, your friends, your family, your significant other, etc).

There are people who are non-conformists and live like this every single day. And their lives are magical, because their lives belong to them and no one else.

And to make my point, here are links to some of my favorite non-conformist’s blogs:

I’ll leave you with brilliant words from probably one of the most brilliant writers in history:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind,” –Dr. Seuss

Ed. Note: I apologize for getting up on my soapbox on this one, but this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Every single day of my life, I fight to make the choices that are right for me, regardless of what others think.

Learning to conform at such a young age makes it so much more difficult to swim against the current and be who you want to be. But I did it, and I do it every day of my life. Which means you can too. Thanks for reading–jb

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cathryn July 23, 2009 at 2:43 pm

What a great, affirming post. Thank you!

This is just what I needed to read for my novel in a somewhat obscure genre, that received a fair amount of criticism that derailed me for a very long time. (Thankfully my SO is one person who sees what I’m doing and pushes me to stick to my vision.)

I’ll check out the non-conformists’ blogs.

2 Cathryn July 23, 2009 at 2:56 pm

I just browsed the blogs you referred to – they are amazing. Thanks a 2nd time.

3 garridon July 24, 2009 at 5:34 am

It’s also hard sometimes knowing what’s right for you versus “common widsdom.” Everyone lives and dies by the mantra of “Do nothing to rock the boat of publication.” In other words, “Stay safe, and don’t take any chances.” Even the how-to books follow the same direction.

For my last couple of book projects, I struggled with something that I couldn’t pin down. On my current WIP, I finally figured out that the viewpoint didn’t feel right. I was writing in third person, so that left first person, right? Except that didn’t feel right either. But those were the two “accepted” choices. A viewpoint workshop came along, and we tried ALL the viewpoints. And I realized that I needed to write in omniscient.

The how-to books? Every one of them said that no one is writing in omniscient, not to use it, and that it’s distancing. No one discussed how to write it. There’s an author running a blog who jumps on the omniscient bandwagon peridically and goes on about how she’s asked publishers and agents and no one uses it any more so we shouldn’t use it either.

I learned how to do the viewpoint by studying recent books–the ones no one says are being published. Then I post a chapter for critique, and the only comments I get are: “Why give an agent an extra reason to reject you?”; “Eew! Omniscient. I hate omniscient!”; “You can do it in third instead.” Every writer jumped on the omniscient bandwagon and went into, “Don’t do it” mode. Even after I told them that I knew it would make it more difficult.

Being willing to take chances if that’s what your book needs.

4 Sandra July 24, 2009 at 9:09 am

Thank you so much for posting this, Jennifer. I’m a new writer and all of the “shoulds and oughts” have been killing my muse. It was freezing me up until I hardly dared to put words to processor.

I had, at the encouragement of the writing course I’m taking, writer friends and websites, started to read “how to” books and this was only making it all worse.

Currently, I’m back to just having at it. If it’s “wrong”, it’s wrong. I’ll deal with it later.

To Garridon:
I have written fanfiction for six years, much of it in omniscient, and have on several occasions had the same problem. Personally, when it’s well handled, I like it. I’ve never felt like it was distancing. Go for it, Garridon!


5 The Procrastinating Writer July 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm

@Cathryn I’m glad you enjoyed the blogs I recommended. Those three people are genius in my book.

@garridon You know your writing and your story better than anyone else. So you only you know what truly works with your vision. I’m not too familiar with the omnicient POV (which doesn’t surprise me, since, as you said, it’s rarely talked about), but I say, if it works for you, use it.

Remember, everyone thought the world was flat until Columbus proved them all wrong.

Keep at it 😉

@Sandra I totally understand. Having so many rules imposed on you can definitely cause the muse to die (I think this is a big part of the reason writers get “blocked”).

How-to books are always good for beginning writers just so they can understand the fundamentals of writing. But don’t define your writing by them.

I like your saying, “If it’s ‘wrong’ it’s wrong. I’ll deal with it later.”

6 Ronda Levine August 13, 2009 at 11:56 am

I think this is a great article. Thank you so much for writing it! I forwarded to those I know who have a hard time doing what works for them!

7 jennifer blanchard August 13, 2009 at 7:39 pm

@Ronda Levine Thanks for forwarding this article! I appreciate it. 🙂

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