If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it. – Toni Morrison
This is possibly my favorite quotation from Toni Morrison, a woman I look up to as a literary foremother if I’m allowed such a lofty aspiration. In fact, this is my mantra when it comes to anything I write. Before anyone else, I write for myself.
Perhaps this is why I find myself writing in so many genres. I enjoy a variety of genres and writing styles. While I seem to have a voice that I now recognize as my own, I still work toward technique and more effective storytelling that might be appealing to others. So far with only rejections, I haven’t seem to have found that technique. But that isn’t the point of this post.
I think a lot about the occasional posts I see on my various social media outlets: wishes to see more fat dark-skinned women as romantic leads, trans women with narratives not about coming out as trans, narratives focusing on leads with disabilities, stories of mental illness that do not make the mentally ill villains or otherwise evil because of the disability. I have a desire to see more of these stories too. However, I sometimes do not feel qualified to write them.
I understand the importance of #OwnVoices and, truth be told, I’d rather read stories with authors who share the experience of their lead characters. In fact, I’d like to see more of us with marginalized identities including characters who have marginalizations we do not share. Yes, I just want more stories that center us without ignoring the parts of our identities that have othered us.
I’ve often written characters who do not share my identity in my stories. I try not to make them a particular identity just for the sake of inclusion, aka tokenism. In many cases, I include these characters because they are inspired by friends and others I have gotten to know in real life. Not only are they inspiration, but they are also my way of paying homage to them. Yes I worry about whether or not I’m being accurate or condescending, but I still feel like I have to take a risk somewhere.
Even with this attempt, there is still a looming worry when I write: the guilt I feel when I see lamentations that we don’t have complex representation in this or that genre, medium or other mode of storytelling. I say to myself that I should be writing this character because someone I know wants to see themselves represented as more than a caricature or sidekick. Of course, sometimes I feel inadequate in my skills to create stories that do justice to the stories they deserve. And as someone without an outlet or influence to boost others, I find it difficult to have an impact when trying to direct others to those I feel more capable of telling those stories.
Then there’s another reason I have trouble with writing for myself: no one except me really wants to read it. Seriously, it’s been difficult finding a foundation of readers who stay engaged with the work I do and grow from that foundation. Then there are the rejections… lots of rejections…
Perhaps this is one of those periods of self-doubt that plagues me every once in a while. But the fine line between work that makes me happy and work that others may enjoy continues to elude me. Of course, there are also the concerns I have that the work just isn’t good enough as I pore over ways to make it better, more appealing, something that will finally make an agent or publishing house or press say yes. Something that will keep readers interested.
But that is the problem in writing for myself. At some point, I have to take the risk and put it out in the world. This means submitting, facing rejection and having to find the self-confidence to repeat the cycle. While I know I’ll continue to take Morrison’s advice to write the book I want to read, I’ll also take on the task of figuring out how to make those stories appealing to others who lament their lack of representation.