“Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself.” Oscar de la Renta
RU contributor and author Ruth Harris (in her own inimitable style) talks about overcoming fears and embracing individuality in your writing.
Welcome back, Ruth!
Style has been described as “looking like yourself on purpose.” I don’t know who said it but the words and the idea behind them always made sense to me. Certainly Barbra Streisand, Audrey Hepburn and Tilda Swinton are examples. So are Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Woody Allen. They don’t look like anyone else and are instantly identifiable—millions admire them and want to copy them.
But what does style and looking like yourself on purpose have to do with writing?
Star hair cutter, Roger Thompson (he was Vidal Sassoon’s first Artistic Director), told me that the dilemma is people are afraid to look like themselves. They come to the styling chair with a photo or a clipping and request a hair style like Jennifer Aniston’s, Beyonce’s or the model on the cover of that month’s issue of Vogue.
Never mind that their own hair is super curly, stick straight or thick and wavy and will never work with the style they dream of unless a hairdresser equipped with curling iron, blow dryer, gel and hair spray is with them 24/7.
They fear owning their own hair, body, face when, in fact, the key to standing out and shining is to do exactly that.
So what does fear have to do with writing?
Stephen King has an answer to the question: “I’m convinced,” he says, “that fear is at the root of most bad writing. . . . Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.”
When you write, are you afraid of what critics/your Mom/a reviewer/your crit group will say? Do you shrink from ideas that seem too far out/too freaky/too scary/too ordinary/too done-to-death? Are you holding yourself back because you’re afraid?
Of what? Of the nay-saying phantoms in your head? Of what “people” will say? Do you cringe from imagined hostile reviews?
Is your writing suffering because you’re afraid of what people you don’t even know much less care about are going to think?
Now you’re beginning to see what I’m getting at, aren’t you?
But, you say, if I let go, if I indulge my nuttiest, weirdest, furthest-out idea, people will laugh at me, sneer at me, think I’m crazy, call me untalented.
The fact is, you’re right. The fact is, they might even think of worse things to say.
The reason is that there’s a bias against creativity.
Only a few examples needed to make the point: Jackson Pollock was ridiculed and called “Jack the Dripper.” Picasso’s Cubist paintings were considered “shocking.”
Two experiments at the University of Pennsylvania involving more than 200 subjects discovered that people resist creative ideas because they challenge the status quo:
People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical—tried and true.
Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it—even when the idea is their own.
So now what?
The obvious answer is that a writer must face his or her fears. Booze is popular. So is chocolate. An article I read a while ago about an in-demand sports psychologist gave me an idea for a different approach. Why not accentuate the positive? Why not conquer fear with confidence?
The psychologist’s theory is that if a golfer is a good putter, s/he should practice putting until s/he becomes a superb putter? This shrink’s approach was not to focus on correcting an athlete’s weaknesses, but on polishing his/her strengths.
Here’s the good news:
Writers can take the same approach: write what you’re good at. To bring the end of this post back to the beginning, as you polish what you’re already doing well—dialogue, description, narrative, the almighty cliff hanger—you’ll will inevitably hone and define a style.
Your style will be as individual as a fingerprint, as recognizable as Streisand, Tilda or Audrey and you will develop it by doing what you do best and by practicing what you’re already good at.
Have you faced down your nemeses and established your own style?
On Friday, July 11th, Anna Campbell discusses the importance of the first kiss.
Is Your Husband Driving You Crazy?
Is the husband you’re living with the man you married? Or has he changed? And not for the better?
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Put an end to your anger, resentment and frustration.
Two sisters who managed to survive four husbands decided to do something about it.
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Will Trailer is a super-achiever on the baseball diamond but at home? Not so much, according to his gorgeous movie star wife.
Efficiency expert Howard Hopkins has just retired. His wife married him for better and for worse—but not for 24-hours-a-day.
Gordo Canholme would procrastinate breathing if he could, but will he ever get the new baby’s room ready? Not without HTS, according to his very pregnant wife.
Robin thinks she is ready for anything the most hapless and hopeless husbands of the 21st Century can dish out.
But is she?
Bio: Ruth Harris is a New York Times bestselling author whose books (with Random House, Simon & Schuster, and St.Martin’s Press) have sold millions of copies in hardcover and paperback, been translated into 19 languages, published in 25 countries and selected by the Literary Guild and Book-of-the-Month Club.
Ruth started out in publishing right after she graduated from college. Her first job was as secretary to a textbook editor, an unpromising start if there ever was one, but she was soon promoted to copyediting—much more interesting.
She’s been a copywriter, assistant editor, editor, editor-in-chief and, eventually, publisher at Kensington.