you are the exception


anon asked:

hey betty! one thing i hear a lot in Writing Advice is ‘have faith in your story’ and ‘your voice matters!!’ and while i do wholeheartedly agree, i just. idk, do you have any Words of Wisdom on /why/ your specific, individual voice matters? (especially when you’re a teenage girl writing fanfic, and everything seems kind of- frivolous? Not Good Enough? idk man. i know most of that rhetoric is misogynistic bs, but some days it just feels pointless.) hope you’re having a good day!

this took me forever to respond to in part because i’ve been thinking a lot about how best to answer. this is definitely one of the most challenging writing asks i’ve ever gotten. 

i keep coming back to Audre Lorde’s “the transformation of silence into language and action.” specifically the line:

Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak.

your voice matters because silence is not the default state of being. you have to speak, and more importantly, you have to be heard. it is a fundamental tenet of existence.

we are sad lonely humans trapped in cages of our singular sentience, and the only means of connecting our brains is to share our experience through language. so saying your voice feels frivolous and not good enough is the machine grinding you into dust. if you find meaning in something, YA or fanfic or sitcoms, other people will too. and if someone else doesn’t like it, or looks down on it, well, it wasn’t written for them. it was written for people who are invested in your perspective. who share and find truth, meaning, relief, and joy in your voice. and would you really want to deprive them of that?

some days, the bad ones, i let the machine grind me into dust. i make myself smaller and smaller until i don’t take up any space at all. i think, though, there is some freedom in non-space. if i am so small that no one can hear me, i’m free to scream without recourse. it is when i am small that i write my biggest risks, my largest truths, because i believe no one could, should, or will ever read it, and then later, when i start to take up space again, i have a piece of writing that is daring and weird and that no one else could have made. and to me, that’s when it feels like my voice matters most.

on all the other days, though, i practice self-aggrandizement. generally we assume our own averageness; we take our success in school and jobs and relationships, lift it up to compare with others, and go, “i guess i’m just like everybody else. if i were exceptional, i’d know by now.”

but what if that’s not true?

what if you’re truly exceptional, one of the best writers in the entire world – in all history, even – but you’re just not there yet? what if you only need to get down a million more words of practice to write the book that inspires an entire generation of writers that come after you?

“that doesn’t seem likely,” you might say.

no, it’s not likely. but we’re not talking about averages and probability and likelihood. we’re thinking in terms of exceptions. and you can only write exceptional work if you believe you have exceptional things to say. if you believe you have a perspective to offer that no one else could write the way that you would write it. you have a truth to show the world that no one else knows.

octavia butler wrote her affirmations on the back of a notebook:


this is a good practice to get into. you don’t need to believe the words in order to write them, but you do need to write them, if for no other reason than to see what you want staring back at you, to make your potential real.

you cannot sabotage that potential because you believe you’re the rule rather than the exception. your future self deserves better than your present doubt. you might think you need to be humble about your skill and realistic about your chances. this is not true. practice telling yourself, “i am the exception.”

another voice might come back with, “what if i’m not?”

and you should answer, “i should give myself the opportunity to find out.”

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