Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Different (can be/is/might not be) good

Back when I was teaching a million years ago, I had this cute little poster (that has long since gone the way of Goodwill), with a group of stodgy penguins standing apart from one obviously doing-a-jig penguin in a loosely tied, striped necktie. The caption? I just gotta be me.

I thought about that this morning as I sent off The Kiddo to school. It's Red Ribbon Week, a week dedicated to teaching drug abuse awareness and helping kids hopefully make the right choice. Each day, the kids can dress up as something ... today it was Dress Like a Rocker and Rock Out to a Drug Free Life.

All weekend, The Kiddo has been planning her outfit. She's been looking up (with my help, of course) pictures of Madonna and the girl-bands of the 1980s. She was thrilled with her ensemble -- black glittery leggings, a hot pink tank-top - black net tutu skirt combo, gobs of jewelry, her hair twigged up in a Bam-Bam ponytail and decorated with a long glittery scarf. I even helped her finish off the ensemble with a plenteous amount of purple eyeshadow.

(And no, I didn't get a picture. Had to do the makeup and the hair and that meant we were lucky to get out the door on time. I'm praying that I can get one this afternoon.)

But when we pulled up to the school, The Kiddo hesitated. Most of the kids she saw climbing out of cars were wearing the usual kid-camo of tee-shirts, hoodies and jeans. "Mommy, are you sure it's rocker day?" she asked.


A long silence ensued from the back seat. Finally, in a very quiet voice, she announced, "I'm gonna wait to see if anybody else is dressed up."

A backwards look into my own experience of these particular types of dress up days told me that the tardy bell might ring before she saw another kid with her daring. "I tell you what," I told her. "If you get in there, and you are the only one dressed up, you can always call me and I'll bring you a change of clothes."

That was enough of a guarantee. She hopped out of the car and headed up the walk to the door. It's 9:11 as I write this, and so far, my cell phone and the house phone has remained silent. I think I'm past the danger point.

What does all that have to do with writing, or for living, for that matter?

Different can be/is/might not be good.

Take your choice, because every permutation of that sentence is spot-on true. We writers want to know the exact "rules" of a genre or a sub-genre -- the exact mix of romance to mystery in a romantic suspense, the right time-span between The Meet and The First Kiss in a romance, the proper amount of sizzle in an inspirational, the maximum amount of tell we can have before we're no longer showing, the genre that is selling now, so no agent or editor will immediately single our way-too-different query out and file it in the round file.

Like The Kiddo, we want to blend. We want to swim along in schools of similarly-colored fish so that we don't stick out. And while that camo will protect us from getting laughed at by agents and editors and the publishing biz, it also keeps us hidden from agents and editors and the publishing biz.

It's the old saw about risk: the risks are in direct proportion to the rewards. Your way-out-there idea? Yeah, it might get laughed out of an agent's office -- maybe even fifty agents' offices. But then again? It might be the Next Big Idea.

So rocker-up, like The Kiddo did this morning. Go on out there and dare to be different. Just make sure your mom's at home and able to bring you a change of clothes if worst comes to worst.


Paul C said...

So true about taking calculated risks with the possibility of greater reward. Some great writers got there by changing the formula. I really enjoyed reading this post.

Linda G. said...

So, so true. And I'll bet the kiddo is having a great time. Probably building her own fan base. :)

Simon C. Larter said...

Aaannd then there are the people that try *too* hard to be different, and it's painful and awkward. But that doesn't hit till high school, or junior high, methinks. I bet the agents and editors see a lot of that, too.

Either way, I can only write the stories that come to me. Hopefully one or two'll stick. :)

Jessica Lemmon said...

AWESOME point, Cynthia - and once again, I feel like you're writing what I'm thinking. :-)

Julie Musil said...

My little boys have done the same thing on pajama day. Once they saw others dressed up, they felt confident getting out of the car. Hopefully The Kiddo came home with tales of how everyone fawned over her awesome outfit!

Great post...I need to be reminded of this from time to time!