Like a lot of art, writing looks easy until you try it. And, like anything worth the pursuit, there are plenty of experts (and not such experts) who seem to have the answer, the formula, the scheme that will absolutely make things happen for you. I say go ahead and read them all, but do so with the proverbial grain of salt, and set them aside when you sit down to write. Using resources to build balanced knowledge of your craft is logical and noble. There just comes a time to put away the training wheels.
There is nothing wrong with writers, especially beginning writers, looking for guidance and patterns to follow, but it is someone who has moved beyond being a novice who gets the chance to break out of any kind of form, to create something unique, to be himself or herself. We move faster when we are unencumbered by the safety of experts.
I know poets are not necessarily novelists and novelists aren’t necessarily poets, but this is how a little dabbling in poetry (or any other art with very strict conventions) might help. When we study poets of the past who had to use very specific genre formats, such as the sonnet, we get the chance to see how breaking the form is as important as following it. It’s simple: if you are knowledgeable of the form or genre conventions, and you break them with intent, you communicate something important to the reader. You move with more freedom, the wind in your hair. And you do something new.
And if you are doing something new intentionally, because it is instinct, because it is the sum total of who you are, what you have done, learned, and read, then your writing will naturally be unique. Your writing will be yours every time you sit down to write, and no one can take that away from you. And you don’t have to force it. It feels like going downhill.
Which brings me to another fear writers have. They hide their light under a bushel out of the notion that someone is going to steal their idea and run off and make a Hollywood blockbuster out of it. They keep their stationary bike in the garage, never going anywhere.
I’ve got news for you: there really aren’t enough stories to go around, we share them anyway. I remember being fascinated by Joseph Campbell and the idea that there are only so many basic story lines. Whether you subscribe to the seven or nine story idea is not important, just suffice it to say that there are infinite possibilities within a very limited scope of plot lines.
Think of the number of books you have read that have some elements that remind you of other books but yet were completely different and worth the experience of reading them.
Art is a crazy place to try to be competitive. Writing, like any art, is extremely time-consuming and personal. It can be a lonely pursuit. It can also be something shared with other writers. If you are a writer secure in your abilities, there is much to be gained by bouncing your work off of another set of eyes. Other artists can help you find new paths.
Not that you have to share your work with the world right away. Start with a small sample. Start with a local writing circle. Develop trust among other writers. Everyone has different comfort levels at different times in their lives, but a published writer is someone who has definitely let someone else read his or her work. A published writer did not hide in the garage.
Don’t stop writing because what you write doesn’t fit the mold. If you have read enough, and have developed enough to recognize when you are straying from the main road, you might just be the real writer you want to be. Move beyond the garage, the training wheels, the pure potential. After all, a writer is someone who writes, an author is someone who writes with a conscious understanding of who he or she is, and a novelist is a writer and author who creates a book. No critic gets to decide how to define you, unless it is your inner critic and that enemy within prevents you from putting words down into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters.