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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Be Remarkable

PM saratogaAs a student, you often learn your most enduring lessons outside the classroom. When I was doing my M.A. in Writing at NUI Galway I remember a particular meeting with my fiction teacher, Mike McCormack, and something he said that completely redefined how I would view my work–and myself as a writer–from then on.

At this point I was fresh off my two-year stint at HarperCollins, nearly twenty-four, with a completed manuscript (that is, my practice novel), an agent, and a big ol’ stack of rejection letters. My agent had recently explained to me via email that we could either start sending the manuscript out to small publishers—the implication being that if I did get a contract with a small house, I would probably never have a publisher like Random House. Alternatively, I could shelve my first effort and work on a new novel—and since I was already doing that, the choice had apparently made itself.

So I showed Mike some early pages (ahem, very early pages) of Mary Modern, and he said he liked what I was doing, mixing science fiction and nostalgia with something kind of neo-gothic, and that very few writers he could think of were interested in this sort of genre bending. (This was back in 2004; of course we can think of a few more now!) We talked about novelists like Pat Cadigan and Connie Willis. “You have to create a place for your book on the shelf,” he said. “Write something that no one else could ever think of writing.”

I know it’s cheesy to say “write the story only you can tell,” but that really is the gist of it. Don’t write for “the market”; don’t write a version of somebody else’s commercial success. Write the novel that would be your favorite, if someone else had written it. A delightful little paradox, eh?

[This post was inspired by Jane Friedman’s “5 Things More Important Than Talent,” a Writer’s Digest blog post from June 2011. Yup. This has been sitting half-written in my drafts folder for that long.]

Petty Magic shelf photo by Cheryl Tan.

3 Comments to Be Remarkable

  1. April 16, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    It’s funny how the novels you write that would be your favorite end up being my favorite, too. 🙂

  2. April 16, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    This post was just the motivational nudge I needed today. Thank you.

  3. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    April 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Besides who knows what the “market” is going to want anyway right (I’m not sure I would have predicted kids killing each other to be a big hit)?

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.