I mentioned in one of my previous posts about my mixed feelings towards this writing class I’ve been taking. One of the things I find myself asking — before, during, & after class, as well as anytime I’m scowering the submissions opportunities on any given website, blog, newsletter or Twitter feed is — am I boring? Is my writing boring?
I mean, I know I can write. I’ve known that since probably before sixth grade, that day when I realized that not only was I already a writer and always had been, but that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life and try like hell to make a career out of it. It’s the only thing you’ll ever hear me say I’m truly good at. I have my battles, like all writers, and I’ve certainly been struggling to find my place in the writing world recently, especially since I don’t fit into the coveted literary fiction box. But it’s the only thing I feel (mostly) confident about and the only thing I feel I can passionately pursue.
But what if I’m just plain boring? I write what I know, which is one of the first rules of writing. But what if what I know is irrelevant? What if it’s not throught-provoking? What if it’s not insightful or deep? What if it’s not mindblowing or truly unique?
A few weeks ago in my writing class, one of the girls was explaining her absence from the week before. She had apparently taken part in some sort of “retreat,” where attendees travel to some remote southwestern town and pay an exorbitant amount of money to take some sort of mushroom-like, mind-altering drug and spend the next several hours vomiting into a bucket and experiencing a life changing trip that blurs the lines of reality and the expands the mind in ways you never thought possible.
Everybody in class peppered her with fascinated, curious questions. A few talked about their own experiences with mind-altering drugs. Most of them spoke as if she had just scaled Everest or killed a lion with her bare hands. These people with MFAs and high-paying careers and children and expensive shoes and dozens of stamps all over their passports were enthralled by her experience. And I just sat there, mouth hanging open slightly, coming to the realization that I was, quite possibly, the most boring person on the planet.
I won’t even sip an energy drink because I’m petrified of what it’ll do to me. And these people were talking about mind-altering drugs and bad trips as though they were popping a couple of aspirins.
In our first class, during the inevitably uncomfortable “getting to know you” phase, our instructor had us go around the room and tell a “crazy story” about something that had happened to us. While everyone else spoke about living in foreign countries and nearly freezing to death on an abandoned train car in the middle of some obscure part of Russia, the best I could come up with was the time I’d ridden in an elevator with hockey great Mario Lemieux.
Jesus, I’m boring.
I find myself thinking the same thing as I read through the submission guidelines of nearly every single publication I explore. Everyone is looking for stories about life-changing vacations, near death experiences, bizarre encounters or drug-induced musings. Everyone wants work from writers who look at a rubberband and see an alternate universe. Everyone wants to hear from writers who have lived abroad or lived in the tundra or been a guide on an African Safari. They want work from people who have been imprisoned, abused, addicted, raped. They want work from people who are immigrants, biracial, LGBTQ+, some sort of minority, disabled, rehabilitated.
I’m not saying that writers from these backgrounds don’t deserve to be heard. They absolutely, 110% do. And I’m so glad that our world is finally being inclusive. But . . . what if I don’t fit any of those categories? What if I’m just a below-average white girl who has never lived anywhere but the suburbs and thought that five days in London was the trip of a lifetime? (please don’t take this is a “woe is me” from a privileged white woman. I promise you this is not an attack on inclusion, just a personal reflection from the anxiety-riddled mind of a below-average college drop out trying to find her place in a world of extraordinary people).
What if writing about mental health is a fad that fades away? What if it doesn’t fade away but I get lost in the shuffle? What if my triumphs and struggles with anxiety aren’t raw enough? What if I haven’t overcome enough?
What if my passion for traveling to the Outer Banks is too boring? What if nobody wants to read about a sleepy beach town that thousands of Pennsylvanians flock to every year? What if nobody cares that Blackbeard the pirate used to roam the beaches or that the iconic lighthouses might be haunted? What if nobody cares about the wild mustangs that have lived on the beaches of Corolla since the 1500s or resilient spirit of those who call the barrier islands home?
What if nobody wants to read accessible, contemporary/commercial/genre fiction about a young woman clawing her way back to life and love after running away from her hometown in the throes of heartbreak, anxiety, and depression?
What if nobody wants to read a short story about a young man who is planning the perfect proposal while also struggling to start his own business, only to have the love of his life say no when presented with a diamond engagement ring?
What if no one wants to read about two best friends who grow apart through life’s changes, only to reconnect over the tragedy of a house fire?
What if no one wants to read about a recent high school graduate who comes of age the summer after her grandfather’s death?
I know none of these ideas are earth shattering. I’m not gunning for a Pulitzer Prize or a Pushcart nomination. I don’t want to meet celebrities or wrangle with the rich and famous. (although it would be cool to be on Ellen … )
I just want to write relatable fiction for the everyday person. I want people to see themsleves in my characters and their experiences in my plots. I want people to laugh and cry and escape from the world while they’re reading my words.
Is that boring?