Writing - Find Your Thing
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Writers are creative types who want to stand out and be unique. This can be a crushing ambition to try to realize. I mean, get serious. Unique? Here at Obsidianbookshelf.com I'm not sure that any individual's personality is completely one-of-a-kind in this world. When you're examining something as general as one's writing, especially after the editors have smoothed it into the accepted format, there is no way that it could be called unique.
New writers understandably want to get noticed and stand out from the crowd. Some might develop a writing style that turns out to alienate the readers with its inaccessibility. Others might waste time searching for a subject or theme that has supposedly never been written about before.
But you've got to remember one of my favorite Bible quotations here at Obsidianbookshelf.com out of the very few that I know. This is the situation described in Ecclesiastes Chapter 1, verse 9: "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun."
This verse does describe a worrisome situation – especially if more than 2000 years ago, there was nothing new under the sun. Imagine how repetitive we've become since then! On the other hand, it lets us off the hook. As writers, we don't have to struggle to be unique. In fact, it's impossible.
Accept the fact that as a writer, you will share themes and subjects and even your writing style with many other writers, living and dead. Critics may group you in with various literary movements because we reviewers love to point out patterns. You will not be the only one of your kind, standing out on the fiction landscape. And that's okay.
The strategy to follow as a writer is to find your thing. Here at Obsidianbookshelf.com I say "thing" rather than "topic" or "style" because your thing could be defined in different ways. It's a strong point, and can be one of many. It makes you stand out a little more.
At very least, your thing is something that you do well that gets you noticed. At best, your thing defines you as a writer and becomes an inexhaustible source of creativity. It could be a topic that fascinates you, a technique that you do well, or an outlook that you develop.
It lifts you out of the larger pool of general writers, and makes you memorable. Maybe even a specialist. You might not be unique (which is impossible) but your thing will lift you out of the vast category of, say, women writers. You'll end up in a more select niche where you can shine.
Take the examples of two extremely different writers, Natalie Goldberg and Cormac McCarthy. Each started out as just another writer within a huge demographic of potentially similar writers. Each found a defining thing, which brought with it a semi-unique fame.
Natalie Goldberg started out as a young Jewish woman from New York City, coming of age in the 1960s. This could describe a lot of other writers including Nora Ephron and Erica Jong. However, she found her thing when she started studying zazen (Zen Buddhist meditation). This discipline combined with her training as a public school teacher, and gave her the inspiration for her classic how-to book, Writing Down the Bones.
Cormac McCarthy used to be one of several male southern writers laboring in the long shadow of the immortal William Faulkner. Others included novelist Reynolds Price, William Styron, and Tom Robbins.
He wrote four southern-themed novels that did okay. Then he moved to El Paso TX in his forties and wrote Blood Meridian which is one of the strangest novels I've ever read – something like a cross between a horror novel and a western.
If anything could be called unique, Blood Meridian comes close. It's definitely unforgettable. His subsequent career has won him awards and movie deals. His thing turned out to be a change in his landscape. He left the south and absorbed the modern, violent west with its uneasy shared border with Mexico.
Here is a list of other writers and their things that either defined them or at least distinguished them for a time. Some writers stayed within their things, and others tried it once and moved on.