You’re an author and you’re writing to sell as many copies of your books as possible. However, you want to be as “original” as you can. That’s wonderful, because today, you can publish whatever you choose.
In days gone by, when getting published meant getting a publishing contract via an agent and an acquisitions editor, originality didn’t sell.
Publishers wanted “the same, but different.” If you insisted on originality, you were (everyone shuddered) a literary author, and everyone knew that literary authors cost everyone money, rather than making money.
An author asked me “how to be original” and I though it was a wonderful question. The short answer of course is: be yourself.
Writing to sell? Be yourself
Being yourself is more challenging than it appears.
Even Ray Bradbury (one of the world’s most original authors) had problems with it.
From Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing (a book that’s well worth reading):
It was only when I began to discover the treats and tricks that came with word association that I began to find some true way through the minefields of imitation. I finally figured out that if you are going to step on a live mine, make it your own. Be blown up, as it were, by your own delights and despairs.
Bradbury discovered how to be himself — an original — in his writing via word association.
So, let’s look at three tips you may find useful when you’re striving to be yourself, an original.
1. Try word association to discover what matters to YOU
According to the Collins Dictionary, word association is:
… an early method of psychoanalysis in which the patient thinks of the first word that comes into consciousness on hearing a given word. In this way it was claimed that aspects of the unconscious could be revealed before defence mechanisms intervene.
Word association works. So does listing things, without thinking about it too much. Whenever I get stuck in a manuscript, I make lists.
From Top 70 Writing Tips: Write More, Improve Your Writing, And Make More Money:
Whatever kind of writing you’re doing, listing will make it better and easier.
What kind of lists? Start by making a list of all the things you could list.
Pick one item from the list, and make a new list of what you could list about that.
Writing a report? Write a list of everything you need to mention in the report. Then write a list of what you should NOT mention.
Try it yourself. When you get stuck, make a list of words. Ray Bradbury made lists of nouns; I like to use adjectives as well.
2. Keep a journal: describe people, activities, places and your dreams
According to research, you can only keep around seven things in your mind at any one time — even though you can recall everything that ever happened to you. It’s all locked away in your subconscious mind.
Keeping a journal is a great way to rummage around in the attics of your subconscious mind to find stuff that you can use in your writing. Original stuff, because no one has, or ever will have, your experiences.
You can use a journal in many ways. For example:
- Describe a problem you’re having in an area of your life. There’s no need to strive for solutions. Those solutions will develop, simply because you described the problem.
- Take a moment to jot down a few sentences to describe people and places wherever you are — whether you’re in your office, in a store, or in your local park. Most of us have stopped seeing what’s right in front of us. Try sketching what you see, that helps to improve your observation skills too.
- Write a sentence or two about any dreams you remember when you wake up in the morning.
3. Believe in yourself: write the truth, as you know it, and write fast
From Dr. Frank Luntz’s Words That Work:
… good communication requires conviction and authenticity; being a walking dictionary is optional.
Whether you’re a new author, or are a pro, write the truth as you know it, or perceive it to be. Trust yourself. Your authenticity makes you an original.
Write fast too. Stop thinking so much — do your thinking while you’re writing. Bradbury (from Zen in the Art of Writing again):
The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style…
When you’re writing to sell, being original takes courage
As we’ve said, being yourself is challenging.
It’s exhilarating too. Have fun. 🙂
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