By Amy MacKinnon
Before writing fiction, I was an essayist. I was also a reporter, but I much preferred writing essays and I still seek them out. The good ones take the personal, make it universal, and somehow imbue it with a profound observation on the human condition.
Yesterday, Jezebel posted one that is all of those things. Allegedly written by an anonymous runway model, Tatiana, it's everything an essay should be. Study it for lessons in clarity and story arc, how to give an unflinching account without a hint of sentimentality.
But as a writer, as someone who's faced with rejection and criticism, conflicting advice and conditional approval, withering reviews and fickle attention, read it for the next to last graf too. Remove all references to modeling and instead insert writing:
"But there is one way in which this industry has taught me to take less of an obsessive interest in how I measure up, appearance-wise. The feedback you receive as a model is breathtaking in its contradictions, vehemence, and beside-the-point meanderings. My shoulders, too broad for one client, will be criticized for their narrowness by another. I have been told I have too many freckles, and also too few. I've been too pale, too tan, too old, too young, too brown, too red, too blonde. I'm too tall or too short. My feet are too big or not big enough. At first, this was unsettling, and kind of withering, but it soon became white noise — when a casting agent shares advice with me ("Tie your hair back for castings!" "Walk more smoothly!" "Work out so you have some arm muscle!") I thank him or her politely and do precisely nothing — because I know the next will want to see unfettered hair, a cocky swagger of a walk, and arms that aren't as "bulky" with muscle as mine. It all cancels out, and I'm left with the conclusion that the client will cast whomever they will cast and they'll know it as soon as the right model walks in the door and nothing in my power will change that. The best I can do is show up."
Familiar? There is a cacophony of opinion about what constitutes good writing, good storytelling, a good book --there is nothing harmonious about public/private/professional opinion. With few exceptions it should all be white noise.
What you must do, all you can do, is write for the story. Write what compels you, what consumes your every thought. Don't worry about producing ten pages every day or even writing every day. Write because you want to, because you have to. Write because you love to write. Do that, and you'll become the person you want to be. Really. Because no matter what, your shoulders will be too narrow, too wide; your sprinkle of freckles will be too dense, too sparse; your arms too muscular, too flabby. I don't mean to imply that a worthy critiquer doesn't exist, I give as the best example my writers' group. What I do mean to say is it's crucial to be selective about whom you choose to listen to and when. No voice should be louder than your own.
And on those days when the voices overtake you, when there's another rejection in your email and you're certain you're no writer at all, remember: the best you can do is show up.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
By Amy MacKinnon