Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What Not to Write

A lingering illness has kept me at home for the past month and a half. Luckily, I'm able to work my day job from home, so my life hasn't been entirely disrupted. And there's the benefit of being able to watch television while I work, which I love, because I'm a mental multi-tasker.

One of the things I've been watching since I'm home during the day is the TLC show What Not to Wear. I love watching people discover how to dress themselves to best flatter the bodies they have rather than the bodies they'd like to have. I mean, sure, I'd like to have a body like Angelina Jolie, too, but I don't. And most women don't. Does that mean you can't dress in a way that flatters you and makes you look your best? Of course not! You find what looks good on you and work it for all it's worth.

It occurred to me while watching the show that writers can learn a few lessons from What Not to Wear. Some of the What Not to Wear rules can work for us as well.

1. Work with what you have, not what you'd like to have.

I might love to write with the lyricism and poetry of Pat Conroy, but that's not my style. It's not my voice. I have a tight, pithy, romantic suspense voice and trying to write evocative descriptions and long, rich examinations of characters' inner worlds just doesn't work for me. Find out who you are and what you do the best, and then hone those skills and make them the best they can be.

2. Try things on.

You never know what will work for your writing if you don't try it. Maybe you've been writing paranormal for a long time and would like to try something different, like a romantic comedy. This might seem to contradict rule one, but here's the thing: how do you know the limits of your voice if you don't try something new? There's nothing wrong with trying things out. The secret is knowing whether or not it works.

3. Let go of what doesn't work.

One of the hardest things for What Not to Wear participants is letting go of their old wardrobes. But it's part of the cleansing process, part of learning how to move boldly forward rather than wallowing in old, bad habits. When I first started writing, I was convinced a straight romance was all I could write. Even though I loved reading mysteries, I was afraid I couldn't come up with a sustainable mystery plot, so I stuck with straight romance, thinking it would be easier. But it wasn't. And everything I tried to write that was straight romance didn't work. Because that's not my style. It's not my voice. And only when I put those stories behind me and started writing what worked for me did I find out what kind of writer I was.

Are there other lessons from the fashion world that we can adapt as writers? Share what you think in the comments!


Karen said...

I LOVE that show! It's interesting that you draw a parallel between wardrobe and writing style. Both of them are very personal and there is no one size fits all in either one of them.

Chris Bailey said...

Thank you so much for this lesson. It makes so much sense. If only finding your writing style were as simple as getting your colors done. I'd like pay a voice consultant--you know, someone who will read six paragraphs and tell me my genre.

Lisa Dunick said...

What a great post! I run into that same problem a lot. I want to write smart, witty, funny stuff, but I don't have that voice in me. By page 10, whatever I've written has turned darker and broodier and more wordy than I meant it to be. Oh well.

Lexi said...

I tend to write at a fast pace, plot wise, and have to remind myself to slow down and put in internal dialogue! The thing is, it's a constant learning curve about yourself and your writing. Least ways, it is for me.

Raquel Byrnes said...

I loved your analogy. Especially the trying on and letting go. Did that with a slightly different genre recently and was pleasantly surprised.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Louisa Cornell said...

Great post, Paula and SO TRUE!

There is no ONE way to write. Nor is there one process. And the hardest thing in the world is to cut words from a manuscript. But like cleaning out that closet it has to be done! Because sometimes no matter how pretty something is, it just doesn't fit!