A friend this weekend paid me the second-highest compliment a writer can receive when she told me my writing isn’t generic. This is incredibly flattering, but it’s also an interesting counterpoint to my fears that I am, in fact, everything but.
(The highest compliment is when people tell you that they’re engrossed in your words despite the fact you fucked up will/would in present tense all the way through a 140 000 word novel. ‘Amazing’ doesn’t mean anything. ‘I kept reading’ is what I strive for. If a reader can forgive me my faults and flaws, place their trust in me that their investment in my words is worth their time, and follow me to the end, I have done what I need to do. This shouldn’t stop me from seeking to improve, and it won’t silence my anxiety, that grand and notorious speaker of bullshit, but it is enough. If a reader takes my hand and comes with me on my journey, it is enough.)
Likewise, J P Kyle used my latest post as a jumping off point for her important thoughts on guilty pleasures, rape culture and romance in literature, particularly romance/YA, and when your words inspire someone to write, especially something else meaningful, I don’t think there can be anything more flattering or profound.
I think this is an entirely selfish reason for embarking on vulnerability in creativity, by the by, and why creatives need to get used to throwing caution to the wind in the frightening quest to be real. It’s not that one’s work is inevitably better (although it is): it’s the impact on others and the feedback one gets as a result of that impact. Sure, vulnerability in creativity doesn’t mean one will get more readers, more likes, more hits. In fact, depending on about a million factors, that may not be true at all. Talent isn’t an indicator of numerical success. The feedback one does get, though, tends to be special. We get to see that, in our words, we have had some effect on the hearts and minds of one other person. We can promote change, provoke, educate, help, comfort, inspire. We can make profound and incredible art, if only we step up and take a risk on our own honesty, and people tell us it matters.
We have proof that what we do matters well beyond entertainment, and I’m not going to pretend that isn’t exciting, validating and amazing. It is. Why shouldn’t it be? Those things motivate us to keep going in a world where there is no financial return for our efforts, and I’ll gladly take whatever motivation I can get when my internal monsters do their level best to silence me.
This is a good lead in to something that’s been plaguing my mind these last few days. See, sometimes I feel that not everything I write is unique. Someone’s written it before. Someone’s written it better. This plagues me more often in my non-fiction writing: I know that most of my fiction writing fills a niche that isn’t filled or only filled in around the edges (a handful of other people writing it doesn’t make it enough representation to reach the audience dying for want of validation). Non-fiction, though? Well, the internet is plagued with social-justice-inclined minorities who write better, know more and have more experiences to mine for their profound and amazing words. Go to Tumblr for five minutes and you’ll hop across something important and profound about queerness, racism or disability among the Who and Supernatural gifs.
(I despise the way ‘social justice’ has become the new ‘PC’ or the new ‘feminism’. Fuck this shit. I’m into social justice. As a non-binary queer crazy person, I can’t afford not to be. And while I’m not comfortable with feminism as a movement because of the peculiar no-man’s-land in which non-binary people occupy as non-women who are nevertheless damaged by misogyny in ways different to how men are damaged by misogyny, I am about being feminist.)
Being an anxiety/depression sufferer, I can tie myself into knots over the fear that I’m not saying anything new.
Never mind the fact that, if I want my book to be picked up by an agent and a mainstream publishing house to fulfill my dream of having trans and non-binary representation in the fantasy section of a normal bookstore, I need to have a web presence and an audience. I need to have a blog and I need to fill that blog with words. Not other people’s words: plenty of people are able to curate other people’s content, and this isn’t something to be belittled or sneezed at. Making profound words accessible is important and vital. No. If I want to sell my own words, I need to prove myself as a wordsmith. I need my blog to showcase me: what I think, what I feel, what I know, what words I use. I need to run rampant with my egocentrism and be okay with this. I need to hold out my hand to my readers and invite them on a journey into my soul so they are willing to put down money for my creativity, and I don’t do that by solely curating content – even if other people write it better.
(Besides, we all know that’s not my style.)
Of course, most minority/social justice writers occupy their own unique sphere of privileges, intersectionalities and experiences: chances are high that we are bringing something to the dialogue that someone else hasn’t said. Chances are high that their words inspire in us an idea that we can push to another level. Even if this is only a small change or tweak, the idea that we can’t bring anything new to a dialogue is in fact oppression in action, and we need to deny this with every word we write. How can anyone tell us that we don’t have anything new to say when there is nobody like us in the world, nobody with our unique combination of history, vision, identity and ability? How can anyone tell us that because we are not saying anything new – which isn’t true – we dare not express ourselves, our pain, our identities and our experiences in a world that already denies us expression?
We need to deny this because our words do bring inspiration and change to others, and if that is only one person, that is worth however many hours it took me to write three thousand words. If I have made one person sit up, think, feel, consider, write, I have struck a blow against a social system that seeks to silence and oppress. I have become one sword among millions of warriors that will, over time, change the world. I have shown myself to be a part of this glorious mass of humanity that won’t lie down and take our abuse without pointing out, with profound eloquence, why the world is terrible. I have made myself known to my siblings on the battlefield that I understand and share their pain.
We need to deny this because people die from silence.
There is, though, one more reason why we need to speak up in our own words regardless of the fear they’ve been said louder and better by someone else.
These words, these words written by minorities and social justice warriors and the oppressed, are not being heard often enough. These words are not yet being said loud enough (through no fault of the speaker) to be heard by all the people who need to hear them. People are screaming and the world is not listening. A reader might miss one of many amazing essays on non-binary gender identities or creativity as a minority that pave the internet, but they might happen across my blog. A reader might read these amazing essays and, for some reason, don’t find those words resonate with them as much as those of an unknown writer on a dinky little blog. Even if we are being repetitive, even if there is little unique in what we have to say – which isn’t true – we are taking action: we are reducing the chance, one blog post at a time, that people live in the world believing the lies society teaches us about who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to feel.
We need to scream the truth we know to the world because people have not heard those words.
We need to scream the truth we know to the world because people have not heard those words often enough to believe in them.
How can we be creatives, creatives who matter, if we are not willing to do something about this conspiracy of silence?
So, writers, I beg you.
Pick up your pen or your keyboard and write what you feel. Write what you need people to understand. Write about you, write about the world, write about society, but write and put those words out into the world. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been said before. What matters is that they’re still in need of saying. What matters is that nobody should ever deny you expression from the fear of a lack of originality. What matters is that we answer our oppression with the only weapon left to us. What matters is that nobody has the right to define or limit our creativity.
Creatives, my dear creatives, take up this call to arms and write what is important to you without anxiety or regret.
Expression is the only thing that matters.