When I was very young – teens – I read this book that said that people’s life-pattern is set by their favorite fairytale. I’m not sure how insane this is – exactly – or where the psychologist who wrote it got the idea, but I have the vague memory he also thought potty-training was all important, so it would seem to be a variant of Freudianism.
Anyway, at the time I thought “oh, good gosh, my favorite” or at least most often heard “fairytale was Little Red Riding Hood in the traditional version, which really doesn’t end well for anyone.” Of course, one would have to define “favorite” since I remember starting to cry when mom started telling it, and I remember being terrified of an embroidered picture of Little Red at the bottom of grandma’s stairs.
But lately – actually since I started re-doing Noah’s Boy – I’ve been thinking if this were true, my real ur-story would be Snow White.
I’ve mentioned before that years ago, during – arguably – the worst year of my life, an old friend/mentor told me my books weren’t good enough because I wasn’t writing things I was passionate about.
He was wrong. He was, however, also right. I think he was seeing the effect, but had no clue what I was doing to make it wrong, so he assumed I was writing in the wrong genre/field/subject, and if only I wrote what I really loved, all would be well. (This is a fallacy writers are prone to believe in, btw. It’s so comforting. We want to believe the love we put behind a book/story/idea comes through. Alas, nine times out of ten, both as a writer and as someone who talks to other writers, the book we love gets a tepid reception, the one we dashed off while shivering with fever because it was due will get people mobbing us for autographs. Yes, there are reasons for this. No, I’m not going into them now. They’re not germane to this discussion, because that was not what was keeping my writing down, as it were.)
I was very upset at the time, because I couldn’t figure out what I could do if the books sounded like I didn’t care. I cared. I cared like heck.
Only I was caught in a spiral of sorts…
You see, I went to school in a Marxist system, where the answer had to accord with Marxist theory. It teaches you double think. It teaches you to read the teacher/professor and play to what they want. You do it, or you flunk.
Getting into publishing wasn’t much different. You still had to play to expectations. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think publishers thought they were controlling content. But they were. They still are to an extent. There are still things that would never get accepted.
This is the problem: the danger of double think is that it twists your brain. You aren’t thinking logically, or even about what you believe. You’re not feeling your character’s path without interference. Instead, a part of your brain is being logical about it, and following logical thoughts… the other part of your brain is analyzing how a publishing house will react to this, how this will affect their perception of your political leanings, how this will affect your long-term career, how–
It’s everywhere. You can’t think from A to B, because you throw in D to throw people off the trail of how you really feel about it, then you take an excursion through E so that the other people don’t think you’re an idiot, and then…
But Sarah, you’re not writing political thrillers.
No. That might have been easier, frankly. Instead, I was tripping over all the shibboleths relating to: women vs. men; colonized and colonizers; view of peasants in history; political and governing theory… etc, etc.
If you’ve been trained in the type of system where you have to hide everything you think in order to pass/survive/thrive, you sense pitfalls and traps where people raised in a free system would never see them. That awareness kept me writing and selling for years.
It also did something else, though – and I can’t even explain how, because, again, most of my writing is not social or political – it dulled and distanced the resulting prose.
Circumstances forced me to start admitting my opinions to myself and others about two years ago. It’s been a long, slow process and one in many ways I still wish hadn’t happened.
Except for my writing. There is no explanation for this. NONE. But my writing now is more alive, more intense, more… me than it ever was before.
It wasn’t/isn’t a conscious process, and frankly, for all I know, it might only be visible to me – but since I stopped trying to anticipate how publishers would think/guess/view what I had to say – it seems to have made my writing more decisive, self-confident, more individual.
I realized this as I looked at Noah’s Boy and figured out how, by following the outline written more than two years ago, I was balking the story of its true outlines. It literally is easier at this time to write things true to themselves than to try to force them.
Is there a difference or is it all in my mind?
Who knows? I know that by being able to dream and think without worrying about whether it finds a publisher or not, I’ve become more myself and perhaps Terry Pratchett was right, perhaps the whole point of life is to be yourself as hard you can.
Or perhaps I’m imagining the whole thing.
One way or another this I can tell you: I feel better since there is the possibility of indie, even when I don’t use it. And I think clearer.
For that I’m grateful. Yes, indie has its drawbacks, in terms of what you have to learn and how you have to operate, (more on that towards the end of the week) but for this much I’m grateful: it has broken my mind out of its chains.
For now, it is enough.
*No, I didn’t get around to doing the post publicizing my commenters. I apologize. I seem to be working on a head cold, as well as trying to get ready for Texas. I will try to post that later today.*