Defining Yourself in Writing
Discovering the uniqueness Planet Earth gave you
Why am I here? It's a question we ask all through our lives. But, when we first start to write, most of us start with something that we enjoy or that we feel we need to share. We tell a story based on our experiences - no, I don't mean forgetting to buy bread or tripping over a rock on the way home. Although, if told well, it could work!
We seek whatever would bring us those accolades we long for.
Our stories are a compilation of our hopes, dreams, ambitions, expectations, memories, and nightmares. It's our knowledge, expertise, development, learning, and self-evaluation. It's about wanting to share information, to be valued, respected, acknowledged; to fill a gap or to wrong a right. And sometimes its about fame and fortune; about the prestige of being what is called traditionally published. The need to be in the spotlight. The need to create divisions, or be part of what you conceive as the elite. We seek whatever would bring us those accolades we long for.
Somewhere in those reasons for writing, you'll find yours. Take a good look at them, and once you recognise them, you'll be closer to understanding your raison d'etre: your reason for being, your function.
I write genre fiction. That means things like horror, science fiction, speculative, mystery, romance, etc. But as a Black writer based in London, UK, I find myself in an exotic society. Nor do I fit within the expected parameters of Black writers (Jamaican heritage, British-born, still in the bloom of youth). My childhood was repressed, isolated, and yet I managed as children do, to have fun and retain a sense of optimism that's stayed with me throughout my adult life.
It's not all been easy. I sometimes struggle with understanding those around me. For example, in some of the books I've read, in a country which built its empire-spanning wealth upon exploitation based on skin colour, it says that I, as a person, don't exist. Well, except in a narrow and fairly negative context. Think sex, drugs, crime, victimology. So, apparently, these are the topics I should write about by default.
As a Black writer in London, UK, I find myself in an exotic society.
These books also tell me that aliens wanting to communicate with Earthlings wouldn't go to Africa - where they've got the option of over 2,000 potential wins in the linguistic lottery. Instead, they'll go directly to the West and struggle to speak a single language: English. Yes, even the super-advanced super intelligent agents coming to Earth couldn't follow logic. Any aliens that go to Africa might be ... lacking in some way. We have yet to move beyond Neill Blomkamp's District 9.
If you're in a group that has only ever seen yourself reflected around you, much like the inverse experience, it can develop into a mental illness. It would then be jarring for you to see someone constantly that didn't look like you. You might even be angry you were being forced to immerse yourself in this world of people so very different from you. You'd become the other. Naturally, you'd want to change that. Or at least, bring in some kind of harmonious balance.
These books tell me that aliens wanting to communicate with Earthlings wouldn't go to Africa - where they've got the option of over 2,000 potential wins in the linguistic lottery.
Because, otherwise, it would mean you have no experiences. Those hopes, dreams, futures, and aspirations, even nightmares, don't exist. Your existence is irrelevant. At least according to other humans - nature seems to think differently.
But the danger is when people begin to think that's all you should or can write about.
People who looked like me were writing the same thing, and they had narrowed themselves down to about five topics.
This is what I realised many were doing. To create experiences that seem relevant, you then spend ninety-nine percent of your time writing about feeling invisible. Worse, everyone else around you is writing exactly the same thing.
That's what I discovered. People who looked like me were writing the same thing, and they had narrowed themselves down to about five topics. These were: racism, spirituality, relationships, business, and healing.
Be confused. Be angry. But recognise that we don't all live in that world.
Now these might be very fine things to write about, and in the hands of a good writer, can certainly change lives. The problem is building a house that becomes overcrowded. Any other subjects don't exist. Just like those antebellum Bibles that were specially edited to justify slavery, those are your safe, happy subjects.
The danger is when everyone else begins to think that's all you should or can write about. That's a safe prison; no one will care what you say there. If you don't step outside of them, no one can hurt you. But stay in that prison too long and people may become surprised, confused, and angry if you try to write about anything else.
If you're a rock climber, you're going to struggle spending your whole life watching people grow flowers.
Ah, well, hello and SURPRISE! Be confused. Be angry. But recognise that we don't all live in that world. Let's appreciate there's a reason we don't all look the same. If our bodies and faces are different, then so are our creative minds. If you're a rock climber, you'll struggle having to spend your entire life watching people grow flowers. And if you're a gardener, watching people climb rocks without a hint of plant life in sight may do you in. Learn to define and accept who you are. Don't fight it.
These days, I struggle with Hollywood movies; I have done for some time. I'm much more interested in the output from Nollywood, Bollywood and Korea drama. It's why I can watch Spanish, French, South American, and Middle Eastern shows with pleasure, interest, cynicism, and a sense of balance. They show other people; other worlds. It's why I found Dirilis: Ertugrul absolutely riveting, despite watching it in one of the hardest languages in the world - thank you subtitles.
Learn to define and accept who you are. Don't fight it.
It's fascinating - like seeing all the other pieces of a jigsaw that was previously made out of one templated giant piece. It's so much more fun trying to find myself in one of those million pieces, recognising my role, and accepting it with a big "Ahh."
It seems like spitting in the eye of Mother Earth for me to squeeze into that overcrowded house. I can already see none of the furniture fits me. So I'm going to be comfortable in my own skin. I'll write and now and again, come across my kinfolk in writing - be they, Black, White, Green or inbetween. That's the best advice I can give myself and anyone else trying to 'fit in.'
So where's my potential readership? Well, that's easy. It's you. Because we all ask that question at some point in our lives - why am I here? Don't think too hard about it. Take the first step towards doing things your way, and let your heart guide you along the rest of the journey.