I’ve wanted to be a published author for years. Yet the older I get, the more daunting the path becomes. I graduated college with the mindset “This is your first book, so you have to make it perfect. If publishing companies don’t like it, you’ll never get published. If critics and audiences don’t like it, you’ll never get published again. And how can you live with yourself after that?” It got so bad that there were times where I couldn’t write anything thanks to my crippling self-doubt.
Then I watched two recent reviews from the Nostalgia Critic (both of which I’ve attached links to at the bottom of this post) that helped me change my tune.
The first review was his Old vs. New of Disney’s two Cinderella movies. At one point, he compares the two heroines and decides the 1950 version was better. He argues that the 2015 filmmakers were so focused on making their leading lady flawless that she became impossible to connect and identify with. The 1950 Cinderella was easier to connect with because the storytellers allowed her to have her breaking points. She got angry, she got frustrated, she broke down when things escalated, and she did let the pain of her situation get to her.
The second review was his editorial “Can a Film Be So Good it’s Bad?” He touches on virtually flawless movies that everyone loved (for example, The Truman Show) but never struck a strong chord with the Critic himself. He moved on to talk about his favorite movies, acknowledging their flaws but noting that the parts he loved made it all worth it.
These reviews got me thinking about my favorite stories and why I love them so much. Harry Potter has a number of plot holes that plenty of people made fun of, but I still love the fantasy world JK Rowling created and the way she made it relatable to the real world (that, and the fantasy creatures were AWESOME). Though Ella Enchanted is Gail Carson Levine’s magnum opus, I prefer Two Princesses of Bamarre because I identify more with Addie’s struggle to find courage. And even though Fantasia and Beauty & the Beast are two of Disney’s best animated movies, I find myself enjoying Mulan and Fantasia 2000 just a little bit more. I took these favorite stories and found one common denominator: I related with these stories and connected with them. They all had an impact on me in some way, and they all gave me a support system to fall back on.
At this point, I realized I lost track of what my job is as a writer and what I really want to do with this odd, fidgety quirk I’ve been given. I want to give something valuable to the people who take the time to read my work. I want to entertain and allow my readers to enjoy themselves, and once they’ve finished reading I want them to walk away thinking “You know what? This gave me something. I don’t know what, I don’t know how, but it gave me something.” And if I want to be that kind of writer, I have to do two things.
One, I need to take more risks and step out of my comfort zone. It’s easy to be a perfect writer if you’re playing it safe. But if that’s all I ever do, then I’m not going to build the connection I want to have with my readers. And sometimes, the best art often comes from artists who are willing to take risks in their work for the sake of expressing who they are and how they see things, in the only way they know how.
Which leads me to the second thing I need to do: I need to be open about who I am and what I believe. It’s almost impossible for anyone today to express a belief without having a crowd of people screaming at them, whether in person or online. And if you flip through some past blog posts I’ve done, you most likely won’t find a shortage of examples where I played it safe for the sake of getting something written. But again, if I want to improve then I have to start by being honest. I can’t afford to run and hide whenever confrontation pops up. Instead, I need to learn how to face it head on with both courage and sincerity.
It’s important to improve and get better. But it’s even more important to write the works I’d be proud of years later—not because they’re perfect and marketable, but because people connected with them the same way I connected with my favorite stories.
Only then can I call myself a true storyteller.