“As far as my knowledge goes, children who have an early bent for writing have no special inclination to attempt the writing of fairy-stories, unless that has been almost the sole form of literature presented to them.” J.R.R Tolkien, On Fairy Stories
We’ll get back to that in a second.
My brain has been rattling around lately (and giving me quite a headache). Thinking a lot about fairy stories, myths, How to Train Your Dragon, the rise of rationalism, Disney movies, lives of the saints, children’s literature, sacred scripture, and Pirates of the Caribbean. (it really all does connect, but we’re not going to get to that today)
So I picked up Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories. I’ve read it before but honestly didn’t remember it. Thus, I’m making my way through it again, and was paging through the notes when I stumbled upon this quote:
“As far as my knowledge goes, children who have an early bent for writing have no special inclination to attempt the writing of fairy-stories, unless that has been almost the sole form of literature presented to them.”
Pretty standard. Makes sense that children would tend to write stories that are more realistic or that revolve more around animals, since that tends to be what children are exposed to more, though I was definitely one of those kids who wrote “fairy stories” because I grew up reading The Lord of the Rings (joke’s on you, Tolkien). I called them fantasy but that’s sort of besides the point.
What is the point?
The point is I think there’s a real difference between “write what you know” and the factual that “we write what we know.”
And know has two definitions: to be aware/have knowledge of something, or to have a relationship with something/someone. Most often we think of the first definition and not the second.
But when we’re children, we don’t have a lot of “knowledge” but we do “know” things. And the things we know, are the things we write.
Tolkien also mentioned that children are more inclined to write “beast fables” which I did a little of (horse stories, you know), but it didn’t last very long.
But what is interesting is that you can know things and not write about them. As a kid, I read a lot of historical fiction (I’m using kid really loosely here because I don’t feel like doing a timeline of my life), but I only tried to write historical fiction once. I was a dancer and wrote cringeling about dance maybe once or twice (and never again to this day.) (Just to note, I am still a dancer.)
So what makes things stick? How do we end up writing the genres that we do?
(side note: I don’t just write fantasy, but we’ll leave thrillers for another day)
I could go into a really long winded spiritual, phycological, and what not explanation of why I write fantasy, but I won’t torture you with that. I guess you could sum up everything with different personalities lean towards different genres, but I don’t think that’s quite it. In fact it’s a massive simplification.
We’re shaped by what we read, what we watch, what we played as kids, what we’re interested in as adults (or young adults). The things we immerse our brains in define what we write.
I guess that’s why they say read stuff in you’re genre.
I do think it’s really interesting that Tolkien believed that children who write do not naturally (or generally) write fairy stories and that “they fail most markedly when they try” (I mean…..I think that writing is an art form that does not generally create proteges at a young age. But that’s a topic for another day). I’m no expert and children who write (no expert meaning I have zero knowledge save self experience), but when I was really little I had my “beast fable” phase but then BAM. I was writing fantasy at like 9 years old.
But again, I guess it’s just how we’re shaped.
WHICH BRINGS US TO….finding your voice. (I took the very scenic route to get here, sorry guys).
The first thing I want to get off the table is that I think as writer we keep finding our voice again and again. We keep discovering it as we grow. I think I’m still growing with it.
We talk a lot of finding our voice, but not about “accepting” our voice. What do I mean by that? Lemme tell you.
I remember the day I found my voice. Spring of high school freshmen year (it will forever bother me that “high school” is two words. That just should not be). I started writing a new story on a whim and something happened. Something felt different. I wrote faster than I ever had before. I felt the story, felt the characters voices, more than I ever had before. Now obviously my writing still had a long way to grow (still growing), but that was the start.
But what does this have to do with “accepting” your voice?
Because I was writing an story that was unabashedly me.
A lot of us writers grow up saturated in stories. There are so many stories we love, but then there are the stories we really love. And it’s generally the stories that we really love that we want to write. Which like, obviously that’s what we want to write.
But we can’t. And we won’t. (This isn’t going to be depressing, I promise.)
We’re not our favorite authors. They wrote those stories because of who they were. And you’ll write the stories you’ll write because of who you are.
I had to realize that I was never going to write The Lord of the Rings because I wasn’t Tolkien. I had a different voice, and I didn’t just have to find it, I had to accept it. And I guess that could be the hardest part.
It can be hard to realize what you’re not. BUT, it’s exciting too. Because you’re you. And because of that you can write something new, something different. It may not be your favorite story, but it could be someone else’s. AND, the relationship a reader has with a book and the relationship a writer has with a book they’ve written is totally different.
Wow, this blog ended up being a lot more “pep talky” than I intended. Oh well.
But basically, your favorite authors wrote the stories they wrote because of who they were. Because of their interests, their lives, because of what they knew (not facts, relationships). And so will you. And I think that’s a big part of finding your voice. It’s not just style. Not just what kind of prose you write. It’s what you write.
Ok wow that was rambling. But as I said before, a lot of things have been knocking around in my brain of late.
On a TOTAL side note, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier is…..really good. *screams*