As you can see in the sidebar, I’m working once again on a novel. It’s a simple thing — a good one, I think, but one in which I’m comfortable making a lot of mistakes and learning to correct them. This is the book I’m grinding away at to earn experience points so I can level up and be good enough to write the story that I thought might be my debut novel … but won’t be. Instead, I hope this one shall be my first published novel, maybe the beginning of a series. I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was young.
Writing this novel, though, I find that a lot of my doubts are based on how other writers might write the stuff that I’m writing. The action scenes and the exposition are especially areas where I find myself cracking open some books I admire and studying how others might write this duel or that bit of swordplay. (Dialogue, though, I’m very comfortable with.) I’ve got my characters and my story about where I want it … but not the voice for this novel. Not yet.
Imitation is one way to learn, of course. It helps us get solid ground underneath us. It can help get that first draft realized. But it’s also something to outgrow.
The nature of this story is that references and allusions to other works in the genre — adventure and fantasy — are not only fitting but, on some level, probably inevitable. The genes of some precursor stories are in this one and I’m not afraid of that. And yet it’s vital that this be my story, my telling, my world and characters.
Still, I’ve caught myself more than a few times rewriting with a dangerous doubt in mind: “This isn’t how some other writer would do it.” Which is a kind of bullshit. I’m not that other writer and, whoever they are, their books are taken care of. I’m not ghostwriting, here, pretending to be me. I’m me.
Creation is risky. What if I end up being the only person in the world who wants to read not this story … but this story told in this way? I’ve outlined my tale and gotten to know these characters, but what if I write that story just plain wrong enough to blow the whole opportunity?
Then that’s the way that goes. Simply put, there’s no way around it. Write again. Write the next one. Fail better.
It’s okay to lean on the lessons learned while drafting, I think, but the finished novel’s got to stand up by itself. It has to eventually be okay that I write the way that I write — and that you write the way you write — because that’s where the lightning strikes.
As I hear Horace put it:
Pindarum quisquis studet æmulari,
Iule ceratis ope Dædalea
Nititur pennis, vitreo daturus
“He who studies to imitate the poet Pindar, O Julius, relies on artificial wings fastened on with wax, and is sure to give his name to a glassy sea.” — Carmina, IV, 2, 1.