People say it all the time. “Just be yourself. No one else can be you.” I classify this under the category of “Pieces of advice that are so undeniably true, but no one listens to or believes because they’re said so much.” But it is true. True beyond true. I can remember reading Ken Follet’s praxis in one of his Masterclasses and becoming overwhelmed because I definitely had not taken a whole year just to write an outline.
Or I remember being overwhelmed when I found that apparently Cormac McCarthy doesn’t write outlines at all.
But then I realized that you can’t fully self-actualize as a writer by trying to be all of the people you admire. Be yourself.
People tend to think this advice is bunk, but it really works, because the more that you are yourself, exactly what you are, you’ll realize that you really aren’t like everyone else. What you write, what you offer, what you say, what you think, etc, really is unique.
And here’s the trick: It’s easy to be “best in category” if you’re the only one in it.
Take Andy Serkis, for instance. He is definitely a multi-talented guy, and he’s very good at what he does. But the reason a lot of people call him the best at what he does isn’t because he’s so good, it’s because he’s the only dude we know that does that. As long as you apply talent and passion, “good” can be the same word as “only.”
I don’t know anybody else that makes extensive parodies of popular songs, so if you asked any random person, “Who’s the best at parodying songs?”, you would get “Weird Al” nine times out of ten. Because he’s the only guy we know that does that, he’s the best. It’s the same reason that Disney can sometimes get a nod for Best Picture, but has a stranglehold on Best Animated Picture.
I should point out that any craft still requires skill. Andy Serkis, Weird Al, and Disney Studios are all very talented and don’t get away with mediocrity, really. But the point is that if you find it difficult to fight the mainstream, don’t.
Create your own category and distinguish yourself within it. It’s much harder for people to critique an original song than a Whitney cover. Use this idea in your writing or other creative endeavors to make it easier for you to achieve the kind of success you want to.
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Photographer: Ashley Webb