Hello, fair readers of Literary Lane! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to--oops, sorry. Got carried away there. My name is actually Amy Dashwood, and I'm from Yet Another Period Drama Blog. Elizabeth very kindly invited me to guest post here while she's NaNo-ing this month, and I was happy to comply!
I'm a writer, and I know many of you are too. I've been writing for almost as long as I can remember. In the early years of my scribbling, the stories I hand-wrote on computer paper and stapled together all had at least one thing in common. And that was, to put it bluntly, plagiarism.
I didn't call it plagiarism, of course. I called it Getting Ideas from Books I Liked. One of my masterpieces was about a girl during the Great Depression who helped out at soup kitchens and whose family took in boarders. I was an avid reader of all the American Girl books, you see. Copying someone else's idea for a story didn't seem wrong at all (copyright laws were as yet unknown to my seven-year-old self). After all, I loved the books I was borrowing from and wanted to write other ones just like them.
Of course as I got older I discovered that what I had been doing was called plagiarism, and was frowned upon in most societies (something akin to cannibalism, you know). So I hastily abandoned any attempts to write books just like the ones I enjoyed reading. And all of a sudden--can't think how this came about--I found myself severely lacking in ideas.
Over the next several years I wrote a little here and there, mostly in the form of short stories and Grand Ideas for novels that never went past the first couple of chapters. At fourteen I got back into the writing groove with nonfiction, but coming up with plots all on my own still seemed elusive and unreachable. When I would play pretend games with my younger sisters, I generally relied on them to come up with the storyline. They had good imaginations, I reasoned. I did not. All was well and good.
Then came NaNoWriMo 2011, and all of a sudden I was swept into a whirlwind of writing. And lo and behold, I discovered I did have ideas lurking deep down. To use a severely overused turn of phrase, it was as if a whole new world had been opened to me. I discovered a network of fellow writers in the blogging world, other girls who loved words and the magic they make when transferred to paper.
I feel as if my writing life can be divided into two distinct segments, polar opposites from each other: Before NaNo and After NaNo. Before NaNo, I was struggling along by myself, coming up with vague ideas that were, to be frank, no good. After NaNo, I found myself in a community of fellow scribblers, reading blogs written by kindred spirits and learning more from them every day.
Happy ending, yes?
That's when a new problem began. Because in reading all these wonderfullissimus writing blogs, I struck a snag in my own writing again. It wasn't quite plagiarism, but it was something rather similar (no, not cannibalism. Let's not be SILLY!). Reading the stories and snippets of girls I looked up to (Jenny, Rachel, Abigail, Jessica, just to name a few) was making me dissatisfied with what I wrote and yearn to write just like them.
So I tried that for a while. Oh, no, I didn't copy anyone else's ideas. I knew better than to do that. But there's no law against aping someone else's style, is there? There's nothing wrong with trying to sound just like another writer, especially if she's a really good one, right?
Technically... no. But it's about the most unhealthy thing you can do as a writer, and it didn't take me long to realize that.
At the risk of sounding like a shampoo advertisement, writing fiction is something very simple: it's about telling the story you have in you. It's about expressing yourself through words, however cheesy that may seem. It's about putting words together in the way that only you can do, because no two people can truly write alike (unless one of them is literally copying everything put down by the other, a thing we already established as a no-no). Each and every writer in this world has a unique voice, and each and every writer's responsibility is to write with that voice.
"But I don't know what my voice is!" you might wail. "How am I supposed to write the way I'm meant to write if I don't know WHAT to write?"
You know what? I can't answer that. Because every writer is different. Me, I'm not meant to write thrilling, epic adventure. I just can't do it. It sounds silly and forced when I try. My sister, on the other hand, revels in swashbuckling bandits and galloping horses. Nor am I meant to write serious romance (at least not yet). A little light sentiment, yes, but a tragic love story? Not for me.
And I realized all that just through writing. Trying out different story ideas (many of which have never and will never come to light... heh, heh), scribbling down any plot thoughts that came into my head, writing random snippets of dialogue unconnected with anything, outlining family trees for my characters and deciding whom to kill and whom to keep. (or is it who to kill and who to keep? I can never remember...)
I found my niche in the simplest of stories, the kind about everyday people doing everyday things, generally with a dash of the ridiculous thrown in (because a book that doesn't make me laugh at least once will have a hard time becoming a favorite). Is that all I'll ever write? Probably not. Writing is about expanding your horizons, after all, and using words to do things you'd never have the courage to try in real life. But ultimately, writing is about doing all that in your own words.
Today you are You, that is truer than true,
There's no one alive who is Youer than You.
— Dr. Seuss
Miss Amy Dashwood is a daughter of the King of Kings, a seventeen-going-on-eighteen-year-old homeschooler and a lover of period dramas, chocolate, long bike rides, babies, teacups, historical costumes and fiddle music. Books are her passion, whether she's reading them or writing them. She is the author of Only a Novel, which is available on Amazon, and you can find her at either of her two blogs, Yet Another Period Drama Blog and The Quest for Stories.