Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Insecure Writers Support Group: Why not?

It's October and time for another Insecure Writers Support Group.   This monthly meme is brought to us by non other than  Alex J. Cavanaugh.  Thank you Alex for giving us an outlet to release our demons.  This month Alex has enlisted these fine folks, Julie Luek, Rachna Chabria, Beverly Fox, and Ilima Todd!   Thanks guys!  Don't forget to visit our awesome IWSG helpers.  Oh, and use the hashtag, #IWSG.

Like most aspiring writers, I tend to get an exorbitant amount of unsolicited advice from publishing firms, agents, writer acquaintances,  blogs and so forth.  For the first few stories I wrote, many harangued me with sometimes subtle but mostly damaging statements like “You can’t do this,” or “You can’t do that.” 

As I embarked on my writing adventure, I took copious notes on what was expected.  And so what happened after that?  Well, this list grew and grew to the point of nausea.  Don’t get me wrong there was a ton of excellent advice I found along the way.  Honestly though, there was also a ton that I found crippling.  Soon after, I grew more and more insecure.  To give you an example, here are a few lists of "You can'ts" that I heard when writing my YA novel.   


  1. You can’t self-publish.  
  2. You can’t be that graphic in a YA novel. 
  3. You can’t have prologues in novels.
  4. You can’t write about religion like that. 
  5. You can’t write about personal stuff. 
  6. You can’t have character be evil and then good.
  7. You can’t make a plot rule and then break it.
  8. Oh, and my favorite...You can’t write about vampires.

Well, as you can see the list goes on and on.  I felt like not matter where I turned, I was incapable of making these rule-makers happy.  After a couple of years, I realized that the growing expectation from others wasn't worth all the hype I’d given it.  In fact, it wasn't worth much at all.  The truth is when you constantly have people tell you, “You can’t do this or that,” it stifles the creativity. 

Soon I realized my best course was to ask the inevitable…Why not?  Now that I understand much more about myself, using this tactic has helped me stave off the naysayers and focus on what’s most important….the story.  

If you want to write about a purple elephant who possess magical farts, then by all means write about it.  As the owner of any story, what’s most important is you have total control from the beginning to end so make it a great one.  Write a story that way you want to and don't listen to every little bit of crap out there.  

Have you ever been plagued by this type of insecurity?  Did you fall in line or did you eventually break from the crowd?

16 comments:

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Hurray, Mina!

I hate those "You can't" statements -- and I recently saw a bunch of them on an interview with an agent. Many of the things she said were a personal preference, and not a "rule" at all.

I know this, because my manuscripts break several of her rules and no one, not my agent or any editor, has asked me to change them.

Generalities are just that.

But who wants to read a book that's the epitome of generality?

Elise Fallson said...

Oh have I heard these kinds of 'You can't' statements too. How about we write a story that incorporates all these 'don'ts' in it and make a bazillion dollars. That'll show them... (;

Tonja Matney said...

Great post. Whenever people say I can't (about writing or anything else in life), it fuels my passion to do it just to prove them wrong.

I follow (again) with my new identity (kind of cool we can do that here). My new blog is http://tonjamatney.blogspot.com

Ron Smith said...

Wow, this is great, and I'm glad you came to the realization to ask yourself "Why Not."

After all, one of those other mantras we always hear is, Write the story you want to tell.

Even if it is about a purple elephant who possesses magical farts.

Hey, I want to read that.

Michelle Wallace said...

Well, thank you so much for the green light - I will now write that story about the "purple elephant who possesses magical farts"...
I touched on a similar topic for my IWSG post... too many do's and dont's actually stifle creativity...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

While writing my first book, I kept hearing that science fiction was dead. I wrote it anyway. Glad I did!

Laura said...

I totally agree with you. I try not to get bogged down by all these rules about writing, because if I do I tend to spend more time making sure I'm following the rules than actually writing.

Carrie-Anne said...

I've had a number of would-be censuring or shaming comments from the word count police. I challenge any of these people to say a classic long book would be so much better had it been split up into a pretended series or had hundreds of pages hacked out just to make it a certain length. There are also the folks who don't understand how third-person omniscient works, or who are anti-adverb, or who don't like speaking verbs other than say or ask.

Quanie Miller said...

I used to feel like I shouldn't be writing humor. It wasn't "profound" and was (gasp!) written purely for the sake of entertaining. But I quickly got over that. I wrote what came naturally to me. I'm a lot happier as a writer because of it.

Julie said...

"Why Not?"

My new motto ;)

(here from IWSG!)

J.L. Campbell said...

Hey, Mina,
It's good that you were able to get over the naysayers. I couldn't wait to get published so I could break some of the rules I'd been told not to. :)

Emma Adams said...

Great post! There's so much advice around these days that it can be overwhelming, especially when for every thing blogs/industry professionals tell you not to do, there's always a published book that broke those "rules". I like to look at everything I read objectively, but if I'm writing a project and it demands I take a certain approach, I go with it, every time. Creativity wins out!

Sarah Trammel said...

THAT IS SO TRUE MINA! When people say you can't, we should always always always ask why not. Always.

S. L. Hennessy said...

I agree with Sarah. WHy not is one of the best questions I can think of to ask. And no one should ever tell you you can't do something.

Heather Holden said...

There really does seem to be a lot of "you can'ts" out there. I'm totally with you on wanting to say "why not" instead!

Morgan said...

Why. Not. <----Right??? Mina, it doesn't get more straight forward or simpler than this.

Thanks for this inspiring post. Sometimes the simple things are what reach us the most. Now those words are stuck in my head! :)