Today, I'd like to talk about the importance of being true to yourself. If I had not been true to myself - and continue to be so, I don't think I'd ever be where I am now. However, being true to one's self is not easy at all. At least it wasn't for me. The first version of Death Loves Me Not was very much influenced by Twilight. It managed to get a few bites but no one really snapped it up or received real interest until I rewrote it into what it is now - a YA horror with the smallest bit of romance in it. (Read: they didn't even kiss!!! IKR. How could that be possible? A Marian Tee book without kissing?)
In the end, though, what really helped me find the courage and experience joy in being true to myself was my readers. More specifically, their feedback - reviews, emails, messages - helped me appreciate my own writing and stop being so easily influenced by what other people say.
Again, I'm not saying that it meant not accepting constructive criticism. NOT AT ALL. Rather, I define "writing for yourself" as being able to write what you really like to the best of your ability.
Keep in mind there are two essential elements here: 1) Writing what you really like and 2) doing your best, which means constantly finding ways to improve your writing.
I needed to clarify that because some people mistakenly believe that writing for yourself means ignoring all rules about grammar, plot, etc. That's one way of looking at it, but that's NOT what I'm talking about. If you really love writing, then there'll always be burning urge inside of you to continuously hone your craft. Likewise, every time you write, you should have this burning urge to write something that you yourself would enjoy reading.
Secondly, being true to yourself as a writer also means being true to yourself as a READER.
I remember there was a time when one of my former online bosses asked me about the books I read. I was totally honest when I told him I haven't yet read Jack Kerouac - and have no plans to do so. I even had to google his name and nope - one look at the kind of books he's writing told me they're not the kind I'd enjoy.
When I was interviewed by Ms. Alma Anonas-Carpio, I felt totally sheepish when I admitted to her that I haven't really read any books written by local authors except those that made it to required reading lists in school like those by Lualhati Bautista. I didn't even recognize most of the names she mentioned to me. >.<
(Off-topic: I really felt bad about that and I started researching about local authors. Eventually, I stumbled across F. Sionil Jose. When I read his life story, I was blown away. What he's achieved is just amazing and I wish more readers would know more about him. I haven't read any of his books yet, but I know I'll get to them eventually - with the kind of life he's led, I just know I'll enjoy his writing.)
I don't like reading books that have the main characters dying in the end (or at the start, doesn't matter, dead is dead). It's why I haven't watched Titanic and why I haven't read The Fault in Our Stars. It's just not for me.
I don't enjoy reading diverse books, mostly because I can't relate to them. I don't see myself as a person of color, but I don't see myself as Western either. Because I'm very much an introvert and prefer spending most of my time with my family, social issues regarding diversity don't really figure in my life. I am aware of it, of course. I'm 100% behind the call for more diversity in fiction, media, etc. but I also know I'm not the best person to spearhead such campaigns.
Poems are okay, but I don't go out of my way looking for new poetry to read - or write. I did chance upon a few passages by Neruda, and I have to admit - they touched my soul. I may read more of his works next time.
As for what I like -
Books that allow me to escape, dream, and experience a whole new life or adventure, may it be a grand sweeping romance, mind-bending mystery, or life-changing nonfiction. I don't care what people say when I tell them I love Twilight as much as I love Harry Potter. I love 50 Shades as much as I love Narnia.
Bottom line: being honest about what you do and don't like when it comes to books is one of the first steps in discovering who you are as a writer.
Another way to be true to yourself and to your writing is being honest about what you want to achieve.
When I write a book---
- I hope to make readers fall in love. I hope to make them happy and cry and then make them smile again. I want my books to be a roller-coaster ride they won't ever forget.
- I hope to make money.
Also, I know writing with making money in mind is still considered taboo, but I'm sorry - I'd feel even more like a hypocrite if I lie about my objectives. Writing is what I want to do in life and the best way to achieve that is to earn from writing. So, yeah, of course I always take in point what would help my book sell when I write.
Fourthly, I think it's important to accept that being true to your writing doesn't automatically mean EVERYONE will love your work. No matter how hard you try, there will be people who will NEVER get your work. And that's okay - you mustn't let yourself be pressured into trying to win them over - to the point that you end up ignoring the readers who actually love your writing as it is.
Lastly, I really believe that being true to your writing means finding your calling and doing what God wants you to do. For me, this is really important. I'm sure people will think that it's weird to say so when I write really steamy books. However, if you read the reviews of my books, most readers say the same thing: the books are hot, but what they really like about it is how LOVE always trumps everything in the end. And that's what I believe I was meant to do - I'm not meant to write life-changing books. I'm just meant to write books that will make you smile, laugh, cry, hope and BELIEVE in love and life again.
I know most of the stuff I've discussed here is something I've taken up in the past, but I just think it bears repeating. YEARS - it really took me years to embrace the way I want to write. Hopefully, this post will help make your journey of self-discovery as a writer easier.