August 28, 2013

Kill Your Blank Pages: Self-Analysis

"Know Thyself"
Hey, sorry I'm a couple days late. College and all that. :) But here's part nine!

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It's a natural tool that we humans use to improve ourselves-- from the time that we're babies, attempting to echo the words our mothers coo to us, through adolescence as we mold our behavior or style of dress after our idols and role models, to adulthood, where we read books on business or parenting or whatever to try to succeed the same way as others have.

But there comes a point where imitation must end and true living must begin. Though it inevitably requires trial and failure, we'll never truly succeed by copying other people. You are you, not them. 

Throughout this series on writer's block, I have often encouraged you to find a way to write that works for you. Today I'm going to focus on this a bit more. I'll explain why you shouldn't outline exactly as the Snowflake method demands; why you shouldn't mimic Rowling's (or anyone else's!) prose; why you shouldn't limit yourself to recycling overused plot and character tropes.

In short, I'm going to tell you that you are YOU.

How to Know if Imitation is Stifling Your Muse

Stilted. Awkard. Fake. Tiresome. These are some words that you may feel apply to your writing if you don't know your own writing style very well. Whether it's cuz you're trying to copy someone else's techniques, or just plain don't know how to string a sentence together in a comfortable way, your muse will undoubtedly be stifled if you don't know how to capture it on the page.

How to Break Free and Find Your Voice

Here are some methods I've used to find my own writing style. Not all of them will work for you, but hopefully some will.


-Stop reading your favorite author. In fact, stop reading at all for a month or two, or even longer if this is a chronic problem for you! If you can't see something, you can't imitate it. So detox yourself from all that influence and take a break from books. (If you can't manage that, then just read a wide variety of different genres and/or authors with wildly different styles. Get your idol out of your head.)

-Experiment! If you write in the same genre as whatever author/style you tend to imitate, then take a break and try writing in a completely different one. If you write historical romance in omniscient 3rd person, then write a dystopian science fiction in first person. If you write fantasy, write an autobiography! It doesn't have to be long. Just write something that REQUIRES you to take a completely different approach to how you write.

-Go back and read something you wrote a long time ago, maybe before you fell under the influence of whatever you're imitating. What did you do a good job at? A dramatic murder scene that was just totally gripping? A unique turn of phrase when it comes to description? Find a way to take what you did there and apply it to your entire writing style. Maybe that humorous secondary character had awesome, original, charming dialogue, but you've been writing in third person. So try writing in first person or deep third with a similar character that allows you to add that natural voice to everything! Don't be afraid to be different.

-Journal. Yeah, if you're anything like me you wanna stab the screen with a pencil at the very thought. I certainly don't journal right now. But I did. Once. For two weeks, I took 15 minutes a day EVERY DAY to just write whatever came to mind! The events of the day, embarrassing stories from the past (I should probably burn it), weird dreams, why I was bothering to write the dumb thing, etc. It was hard. Sometimes I ran out of things to think about (I'll talk about this more next week). But by the end, I had gained a lot of experience writing in my own natural voice. In fact, those last two and a half minutes where I felt like I had nothing to say brought it out very strongly, since I would not allow myself to put the pen down. Do it. That's all.


-Stop reading. Again, mental detox! You read to gain inspiration. You stop reading to lose it, and in this case, that's what you want.

-Switch genres. Sometimes you don't need to stop reading, but rather need to start thinking outside the box. If your plot lines are stale and cliche, it may be because you're only reading books or watching films that all follow the same basic structure. Broaden your horizons and discover what's possible by exploring a different genre or style! THEN stop reading and stop trying to plot for a long time (say, a few months). That way when you go back to plotting, you'll have plenty of options at your disposal, and yet no fresh impressions to influence you. Hopefully this will help you to adopt a technique or structure that feels most natural to you.

-Broaden your experience. Sometimes just experiencing more of life helps you to understand yourself better. It also exposes you to more of the craziness that life can throw at you. This should not only inspire you, but give you a better feel for the kind of craziness you find most interesting and would like to write about.


-Stop reading. You get the picture.

-Analyze people you've met. So, unless you live in Plato's metaphorical cave, you probably know people. Which of your friends, family and acquaintances just fascinate you? Which frustrate you? Which make you feel bad about yourself, or want to be more heroic? What is it about them that makes you feel this way? The better you understand how human personalities and problems affect you, the easier it will be for you to capture these in your own characters. You can use the traits that impact you most powerfully to have the same impact on your readers!

-Meet new people. Along the same lines as above. Talk to the awkward wonks, the quirky extroverts, the stuffy intellectuals, the passionate activists, the loving parents, the bored teenagers. Better yet, talk to the unusual people. The broader your people experience, the more character traits at your disposal.

-Mix 'n' Match! Take all these traits you've identified and juxtapose them until you find something that really intrigues you. Create a character YOU'D like to read about. Every so often I wish someone else had thought of my characters, because I'd rather read about them than record their adventures. ;p

Motivational writer David Schwartz said it best. "It is well to respect the leader. Learn from him. Observe him. Study him. But don't worship him. Believe you can surpass. Believe you can go beyond. Those who harbor the second-best attitude are invariably second-best doers."

You are you. So write like it.

Join me next week (hopefully) for the final installment of KILL YOUR BLANK PAGES: A TEN-PART SERIES ON WRITER'S BLOCK! In the meantime, tell me about you! Have you tried any of these strategies before? What are some methods that you use to find your inner voice?

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