Even if you're not a Star Trek fan, you've probably heard of the Borg, a collective-conscious race of half human, half cybernetics drones in the Star Trek universe. And they're incredible at adapting to any weapon fired at them. I've been watching a lot of Star Trek lately. Shhh, I'll blame it on my husband.
One of my favorite lines in all the Borg episodes is: "They've Adapted!", meaning "Oh, crap, we have no defenses against them now that they've adapted to our weapons. We'd better come up with something truly creative and unique to defeat them. Again."
As I write and read more and more, I've done something similar against a race my brain unfortunately likes to think of as the Borg: the collective mass of readers who may one day read my work in published form. I've seen readers follow trends, creative marketing and popular groups, oftentimes seeming as if they have no say in what they choose to read. Probably because if it's not marketed well - if it's not easily accessible or seen - they don't bother finding what else is out there to read.
So what do I do?
I panic, of course. I think I'll never get an agent's attention, a large audience, or any attention at all if my work doesn't stand out over everything else.
And what do I do to fix that?
I think, "Oh, crap, I'd better come up with something truly creative and unique to stand out."
Many times this mean upping the shock factor. Or sometimes it means an idea that's not only creative, but really stupid and makes no sense. Do you see where I'm going with this? I'm not really writing what I want to write; I'm writing what I feel will set me apart. That's not a bad thing altogether. In fact, it often drives me to more creative places than I would go otherwise. But, I have to be careful because more often than not that creative place is nothing more than a ploy.
I was the editor of my university's literary magazine over six years ago. I sat on the reading board many times. What did I see the most in all those entries? Obvious attempts to wow the judges, to come up with something so new and off the wall that we'd be blown away and impressed! I think it worked twice. And guess what? Over the years I've done the same thing with my own work to try and stand out against my peers in the classroom, or in a contest or call for submissions. Hmmm, even blogging.
I think what really sets any writer apart is honesty. I can spot an honest story five hundred miles away. Combined with a fine handle on writing, execution, and character development, honesty goes farther than any other writing device I've encountered. An honest writer can take the most boring, mundane subject in the world and make it exciting. An honest writer can blow the Borg out of the galaxy with one careful aim and fire.
Against honesty, resistance is futile.
Couldn't resist, sorry.
Scott wrote an excellent post awhile ago about honesty. A quick excerpt from his thoughts:
I have long thought that in order for a story to be a good story it must say something true, reveal something about us as a species or our times as they are, or some other truth. There had to be a revelation of some kind. This is of course one of the tropes of the modern short story: the epiphanic moment. I still think that a story has to tell a truth of some kind, but I no longer believe that what I write has to be Big and Important. I am beginning to think that I can approach my stories, my themes, my characters and more importantly my audience, with some humility and address them more quietly. I begin to think that it's possibly just as good to say, "This is interesting" as it is to say, "This is important."
Well said, Scott.
Question For The Day: Come back here next Thursday for my thoughts on what makes writing honest. First I'd like to hear what you think! What makes your writing honest? Don't tell me you "write from the heart." Think more deeply than that if you can. What blows your Borg out of the galaxy?
~MDA (aka Glam)