Embracing your peers

London Reflections, Southbank, www.carolineallen.com

I have a friend who’s a journalist, a genius of a guy, who’s writing a novel. I read parts of it and realized it was in the realm of a post-modern author I’d studied in school. I got the guy the book as a gift.

I was amazed that as my friend opened his gift, his face fell. I asked him what was wrong. He said: “I don’t like to think there are any other authors out there like me.”

I was taken aback. I like to think there are many other authors who paved the way for me, feminists who had a similar take on life. I like to think I’m not at the forefront of the praire hacking at the underbrush, the first pioneer to get there. It’s too backbreaking. And honestly, I know my peers have come before me, and support me. I know my voice is unique and different, but I know I stand upon the shoulders of many many women writers.

I thought: by not being humble and honoring his writing peers, he’s hurting his own process. He’s refusing the help and support that’s out there for all of us as writers.

Many writers who previously disdained popular writers do turn to them in the revision process for help with plotting, dialogue, pace, setting. In working with writers as a coach, I notice again and again in the revision process that my clients embrace pop culture writers for inspiration.

Someone who admires Camus, who all their lives wanted to write like him, finds plot help with Nicholas Sparks.

Someone who loves Chekhov, finds structural help reading Tim O’Brien.

A lover of Shakespeare’s sonnets, reads and learns from the poetry of Mary Oliver.

I think it’s a tremendous shift for the client/writer. To be humble enough to say that a ‘normal’ modern writer can help you, is a real positive shift. Many English lit folks I meet are stuck writers. They are so enamored with the greats, so awed by them, that they couldn’t possibly take on writing themselves, lest they look like a fool. They ASPIRE to greatness so profoundly, they cannot let themselves be new, be humble.

First let me say I live for the classics. I LOVE them. So for me to see the benefit in more modern writers is a shift for me, too. It’s also interesting to note that shift in my clients again and again. They finish a rough draft, and then find they are reading Michael Crichton, and finding great help in their revision process by studying his pacing.

Most writers until they are well into the writing process have delusions of grandeur. There’s a fine line — there’s the power of the person’s soul and their potential to be great, and then there’s a mistaken notion that the first thing that comes from their fingers onto the page is going to be a great piece of literature in the realm of Charles Dickens.

We need to own as new writers that we may be as great as Charles Dickens, but it takes a lot of work and false starts and humility to get there.

When we pick up a modern writer’s book, and we realize that he or she has struggled through the dynamics of writing good dialogue, and we study how THEY did it, it’s grounding. It’s a humbling. It’s progress.

As a coach, I’d advise any new writer to appreciate current popular writers. Afterall, they’ve put in the time, written and revised the novel, and followed it all the way through to publication. Until we’ve done that ourselves, we have no right to disdain anyone.

I’m a writing coach: www.artofstorytellingonline.com


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