Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Writer's Epiphany: It's Not About Me

When I think about all the ways I've struggled as a creative person – and as a human – a lot of it has to do with ego. I wrote this book. I won this award. I got this contract. As if those are the defining things that make me a writer. When those are not the things! No, they are not!


When I was a young voracious reader, I didn't even know the name of the authors of the books I loved best. That's because the books I loved best were MINE. I lived inside those stories. They weren't the author's or the publisher's or my parents' or teacher's. The author was invisible.

Every time I remember that younger me, the older (writer) me has an epiphany: It's Not About Me.

I've often shared at school visits and on panels that there are a number of qualities that you need to be a writer: 1) you need to be a little bit scrappy, a little bit competitive 2) you need to be able to get along with other people 3) you need to have thick skin.

And all of those things are true! But mostly, more important than anything, you need to get out of your own way. You need to realize you are a vessel, a conduit – not the water, not the electricity.

Our words, our stories, our books are the water and the electricity. That's where our focus should be.

Not on who got what award (and wah, I didn't!). Not on how many followers we have on Twitter or how many “likes” on Instagram. Not on book sales or contracts or advances or any of those outcomes.

We must focus on the act of creation itself – the morning pages, the idea notebook. All the false starts and fast, dirty first drafts. Focus on the story, and on giving the READER the story – not on becoming famous, but on becoming more invisible. So our readers can live inside our stories, too.

Working on it...

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Irene Latham is a poet and novelist from Birmingham, Alabama. Her books for children include Leaving Gee's Bend, Don't Feed the Boy, Dear Wandering Wildebeest, and two new poetry collections When the Sun Shines On Antarctica and Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmers' Market will be released in 2016. From time to time, but not often enough, she borrows Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. irenelatham.com

4 comments:

  1. This is funny because since I have been writing myself, I have tried to get my students to focus more on the author. I encourage them to find a favorite. We make connections. We have Skype visits. There are so many ways to see the author these days than there were when we were growing up. Even so, I had my favorites, Judy Blume, Madeleine L'Engle. But if these authors didn't make great stories, I wouldn't remember them at all.

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  2. Definition of a great story? Feeling like you ARE the story and a character in it. Great post.

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  3. Love this, Irene. Trying to get out of my own way on a daily basis. :)

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  4. This is SO TRUE. It was a lot easier to focus only on the work pre-publication, wasn't it? (And it's COMPLETELY freeing to get back to that...)

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