Here’s a question. Are you writing what you really want to write, or what you think you should write?
Answer these questions:
1. What book(s) do you wish you had written?
2. If I asked you to pull your 5 favourite books from your bookshelf (it can be an imaginary bookshelf, you don’t really have to own it!), what would they be?
3. Now think about your actual reading habits. What’s the book that’s next to your bed, not because you haven’t reached the end, the one underneath that, the one you keep coming back to. Which books have creased and broken spines that you tuck away in the bookcase because you don’t think you should love them quite as much as you do? Which books have you read 5 times?
The chances are that you answered the first two questions with books that you like – maybe that you’re really very fond of – that are also answers that take into account what other people might think. Your choices are probably influenced by your perception of a book’s status, it’s literariness or what liking it says about you. The third set of books is where your heart truly lies.
I’ve been looking at the things I think I ‘should’ do in other areas of my life and how unhelpful that can be, and it struck me that I should be questioning my writing too. Why do I think I should write a Dostoyevsky novel when the book next to my bed, which I’ve read at least 7 times, is Harry Potter (yeah, I know, it’s not original, but I loved The Worst Witch when I was small so at least I’m consistent)? Maybe it’s time to let go of should and caring what other people think and thinking a little more highly of the things that bring you alive.
Are you writing the sort of thing that you would love to read? That you love to write? Because perhaps that is actually what you ‘should’ be writing.