Who you are and what you believe, your moral ideals and your spiritual strengths will come out in your writing. And this is a good thing. Because you are unique, you have something to give to storytelling that no one ever has done before, nor will they ever be able to do it again. Although you may inspire copycats, the originality of your personality and beliefs will mark your stories as clearly authentic. Who you really are will “sell” what you write.
Your stories are going to be and become part of you; some writers feel in an odd way as if their stories are ‘children’ — children of the mind. As children, they are going to be at least half you, and half whatever inspired them.
Don’t expect your stories to rescue you from yourself. What I mean is this: if you feel that you are an unsalvageable geek and you write to imagine yourself cool, your obsession over what is cool (in your mind) will overwhelm the story and make it pathetically boring to anyone who isn’t you. First, what you think is cool may not be what most other people think is cool, and second, writing a story to prove to others how cool you really are (or how cool your Me Character is) is a serious turn-off.
Why bother with what is cool anyway? Every human being is a universe unto themselves, full of unimagined new vistas. What you have is valuable, no matter who you are. Explore that inheritance which came with you from birth, and you will find your place as a writer.
Nobody likes an insecure author. Insecure people are aggressive; they try to shove things down the reader’s throat constantly, even if they themselves are not aware that they are doing it. Sermonizing, putting the reader down, using huge words trying to sound super-smart, all of these annoying tendencies of the not-so-hot among the writing crowd are the earmarks of someone who is simply not comfortable with who they are. The most important thing in writing is to relax, be happy with yourself, and do what you do well.
Don’t apologize for what you write. Everyone has a strength, but it may not be what you would have ordered from the factory. Also, what you write well may be nothing like what you prefer to read. Shannon likes historical fantasy like George Martin, and comedies, but she can’t write that way. She writes suspense bordering on horror. I (Adah) like epic fantasy like Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin, but I am best at writing somewhat cartoonish urban humor-romances.
Because your reading and writing material is probably going to be very different, don’t try to copy your favorite author. If you love comedies but you are actually serious, don’t even try to write a comedy. Nobody likes a comedy that isn’t funny. Write something serious, like you, and people will appreciate it. And if you are a natural comedian who reads solemn books, don’t try to be solemn unless you intended for the book to turn into a spoof!
If you just write what you know, it will turn out well, although heed the warning of Paul Valéry that the reaction you get may not be exactly what you wanted: “What one wrote playfully, another reads with tension and passion; what one wrote with tension and passion, another reads playfully.” This is so true. If you give in to your comedic side and write it in a silly mood, you might be surprised to find that everyone considers the work quite solemn! Even so. Let your writing be what it is.
I fought against writing romantic plots for years until I finally gave up and did what I naturally do, and it works. I write my stories in a very serious mood, and naturally according to Valéry’s Law, most people laugh all the way through them. But how do you know what it is you naturally do? You’ve found what you’re good at when the writing of it is easy and fun, when it rolls along at a pace you enjoy, and when you are done writing you get up from your desk and do a little victory dance around the office because you know to the core of you that you kicked hiney. If you are writing something that is hard, you lack inspiration and you keep getting writer’s block, and especially if you keep wondering if your work is right or good or are confused as to exactly how to do it, that is NOT your thing. When it’s good, it’s easy... it should be as natural as daydreaming as you stared out the school window.
A little warning. If you start writing, and to your amazement find yourself sliding into Westerns, or Mysteries, or Science Fiction, or something you don’t know about, don’t bother following the advice of the world at large. Most writerly advice would tell you to scout out the other writers of that genre and read every single bestselling genre book out there to find out “how it’s done”. But if you read everyone in your new genre, and make them your role models, you will end up with their bad habits.
Follow your instincts instead. If that means you color your “Mystery” or “Western” a little outside the lines, so be it. Modern writers who copy one another’s bad habits only propagate the degeneration of their genre; for example, Science Fiction writers who fall back on “technobabble” to hide the fact that they haven’t figured out how their tech works, or romance writers who put smut into every book and think merely sleeping together equals a successful relationship. Those are shortcuts, and if you see someone else getting away with it on the Bestseller list, you might be tempted to do the same!
I’m not saying you can’t read other writers. Go ahead! Writing (and reading) is for the fun of it after all. Do what you enjoy, but if you read a lot of one author, you will write just like them for a while; like we tend to speak in Elizabethan English immediately after reading a lot of Shakespeare. To avoid this, set aside separate read and write times—a time when you read others, and a time when you write your own stories. Keep them separate. Before you go back to your own stories, read some of your own material first (at least a chapter) to shake off the storytelling styles of others and return to your own language. Remain authentic, and be yourself. Before you “settle’ into a style, you are still fresh and new and unique; let what is fun and entertaining and exciting be your guide. Be your own genre.
One last note on being yourself (without being TOO yourself): Writing is not a place for you to live out your private fantasies. Now some daydreaming will inevitably happen, but your story should not be exclusively your personal power-trip, or erotic playpen. Your story is not your frustration dump. The private fantasy won’t remain private, for one thing; you are writing this as a public piece after all, since the goal of every writer is eventually to be read. For another, chaining a story to your personal tastes and ego is a good way to stifle your own creativity and make the story feel claustrophobic, or even kind of psycho and creepy. We as the readers don’t want to be in your head; what we want you to do is lead us on a long meandering quest out into the great adventurous free unknown of the universe. A place you yourself might not even know the boundaries of! We want to explore, and a relaxed author will be able to explore with us. Let your story take on its own life, follow it wherever it wanders, and don’t be afraid of what your creation might become. Let it grow.
Of course, if your goal is to write a book first-person from the perspective of a psycho, by all means write it as a personal ego-trip. Just finding out what you consider empowering about keeping a jar of pickled monkey-brains under your bed will make your readers do the Calvin and Hobbes frown of disgust, I’m sure.
Soon with experimentation and practice you will find your pace and your genre, your areas of writing that you really excel in; embrace what you write well and easily even if it would scare your mother. In the world of the fine arts, they say you can’t paint a real work of art to match your couch. In writing you can't write to please your mum... or kids... or spouse... or even yourself. You have to write the story to please itself. Just as you must be yourself, and your kids have to be themselves, your story has to be itself to grow up strong.