I grew up in a strict, conservative household. More often than not, other people’s perception of us was more important than the reality. ‘What would people think?’ was a question I was taught to ask often.
It is not always easy to shake off the things you are taught as a child. Some things – like good manners – you shouldn’t shake off. But more damaging thinking should be cast away as soon as possible. I have spent years trying to undo a lot of my upbringing. Don’t get me wrong, I had a loving upbringing and my parents are good people. But I am much more fearless now, or at least I want to be. It’s just that deep inside me there is still that voice that asks, ‘What would people think?’
This sort of thinking has bled into my writing. I fight it constantly, but sometimes I catch myself choosing a certain direction in my story because I think people would like it better. Or people would expect it – or not expect it. I spend too much time worrying about the publisher, the reader, the agent, that I sometimes lose sight of my own story. And I have to tell myself I need to write my own story my own way.
I am getting much better though. In my new novel there are several scenes which are not necessarily conventional. I went back and forth with whether to include them, but I think it makes my story better, it makes my story my story, so I have kept them in. Chuck Wendig wrote it beautifully in a blog post of his last week:
Always be leaning toward failure. Get ready to fall. Tell stories that are bold and strange. Make moves that feel dangerous and uncertain. Confidently assert your own chaos as you discard fucks over your shoulder like a cruel child plucking the legs from a captive centipede.
I should engrave that and hang it over my desk so I can remind myself to tell my stories my way and to ignore what other people might think. There are always going to be those who will love my stories and those who will hate them.