The Toxicity of Sameness

There is a particular innocence you start with when you begin writing. You read books, watch movies; you analyze plot lines with others, and speculate where the story is going. You reflect on your favorite things about them and think, “I want to make other people feel like I do right now!” This seems to be one of the major catalysts for people to start writing–the desire to evoke powerful feelings in others. I know it was for me.

At some point in some writer’s journey, they’ll look for resources to help them with something, be it punctuation, formatting, or character development; and during that time they will most likely join a forum or group for writers, entering the page smiling, wide-eyed, and thinking, “I’m among peers now! We can talk shop!”

No. No you cannot. Because you do not think like these people do.

Everything is deconstructed–hashed out, dissected and trampled to death. I’m not talking people’s work either, I’m talking technique, structure, literary devices–things of that nature. I’ve been a member of several forums for about a year now. I mostly lurk, but after watching people pull apart everything under the sun about writing, I found myself doing it too. I couldn’t enjoy a book or movie without feeling extremely jaded; picking it apart mentally, even when I liked it. Writing was worse. When I wrote, I second-guessed every. Single. Little. Thing. Am I being too ‘purple’? Am I using too many adverbs? Am I really pissing people off and making them throw my book [or the eReader it’s on] at the wall the second I mention what a character’s eye color is?! I don’t like feeling like this. I don’t think anyone would!

There are several rules that seem to have surfaced above the clamor that they all deem universal. According to them, you’re supposed to show not tell–but don’t use too many adverbs while doing it–and god forbid you use any word that might be considered above a sixth grader’s vocabulary level! If you do people will think you are using a thesaurus to sound smarter than you are; in fact, try not to use very many words at all. Too many words on a page turn people off.

Is this really what writing has come down to? Everyone needs to write the same, across all genres, or it’s all garbage? People are bemoaning the rise of carbon-copy literature but they are not seeing why this is happening. It’s starting with writers of all skill levels having access to the same places online, all of them having fear and uncertainty instilled into them from the outset by those who think they know better–those who praise one author’s voice over all others. All the things that stopped me from reading authors like King, Crichton, Koontz, and Collins were now the things my “peers” were saying I should do to my own work.

I found myself scared that people would hate my books because I didn’t sound like them–despite the fact that in the past I have been told by people that they like my style of writing. I submitted entries to short story contests, and received a fair amount of praise as well. [No wins.] But still, that pressure to change remained. I watched other people post perfectly good story snippets, asking for advice, seeing them told time and time again to alter it to match those unspoken rules.

Now I’m not making an excuse for bad writing. Not at all. But when writers tell other writers that they can’t use certain phrases, or insist that they shouldn’t describe a sunset–even if it’s only with two adjectives–there is an issue. So I pushed back in my own work; I like being descriptive. I enjoy painting with words. My audience doesn’t just consist of other authors, but of people from all walks of life who enjoy the kind of tales I love to spin. Some people will love my books; others will hate them. No amount of adverb-less sentences or extensive wordiness will make any difference. The forums were doing more harm to my writing and confidence than good, so I pulled away from them.

After I distanced myself from them the little voice in the back of my head that parroted their rhetoric faded. Recently my husband and daughter [inadvertently] got me into a show called Steven Universe, and it was one of the first things I enjoyed in a while because I did not have that squawking in my ear, desperately trying to pull it apart to see the tropes or spot where they were “telling and not showing”. I started feeling like myself again.

I am editing faster as well. I am a third of the way done on my second pass in a week already, after months of trying to edit through self-doubt. I have found a new forum, one that seems more inclusive than the others; I’ll see with time if that is true or not. If it’s not I may have to swear off them altogether.

It’s a shame that something I thought would help started to poison me over time. All I can do from this point forward is to keep writing; pushing forward, strengthening my voice and improving my prose. That’s all we should focus on as writers, really. We don’t have the spare energy to deride anyone for not writing like someone else. Same as readers, if we don’t like an author’s work, that’s okay–their work isn’t for us. Someone else out there likes them, and the world is much better when everyone is different, right?

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