Neil Gaiman’s answer (excuse the transcribing, any errors are mine):
Saying that we have enough artists is like saying we have enough scientists…
Nobody gets to be you, except you.
Nobody has your point of view, except you.
Nobody gets to bring to the world the things that you get to bring to the world—uniquely—get to bring to the world, except you.
So saying that there are enough writers out there, enough directors out there, enough people with points of view, well, yeah, there are, but none of them are you.
None of those people are going to make the art that you’re going to make, none of them will change people and change the world in the way that you could change it.
So, if you believe somebody that says, ‘no, no, we’ve got enough of those’, then all it means is you’re giving up your chance to change the world in only the way that you can change it.
—Neil Gaiman, 1 December 2012.
You can view the clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6Vpl8JoIiY
Firstly, comparing writers and scientists? Go Neil!
Science is important to humanity. Art is important to humanity. Writers are important to humanity.
But his comments resonated with me and what is happening in my writing and personal life on a deeper level.
At the moment I am working through the process of having my 15 year old daughter tested and diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (currently being changed to Autism Spectrum Disorder).
More on Asperger’s Syndrome here: http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/
As a parent, one of the assessment forms I had to complete was about her idiosyncrasies and her outlook on life. I found this confronting. For one, because of the critical way I had to view my child. The other, because although these quirks and way she has of looking at the world prevent her from fully relating to her peers, at the same time they are a part of who she is—they are what makes her unique. At the moment, though, they set her apart in a way that makes life tougher.
We want to work with the traits that prevent her experiencing life fully and reaching her full potential, without losing the essence of who she is—without the thought to ‘fix’ her.
My 8 year old son, on the other hand, is fully in blend mode—he wants what his peers have, he wants to fit in, he wants to belong. He hasn’t yet reached the stage where he wants to stand out from the crowd. His uniqueness is still under development.
Or at least, his courage and maturity to let his uniqueness shine is under development.
Which is an interesting thought.
We want our children to be individuals and be unique but we also want them to relate to their peers, to be part of friendship groups, to not stick out so badly that they are distanced from other people and experiences. After all, part of being human and enjoying life is in the connections we make with others and the world around us.
Our teen years are fraught with the struggle to find our identities. We want to be an individual, to not be one of the masses. At the same time, we want to blend and not be an outsider. As an adult we have developed that balance and maturity in our identity and self-awareness and our place in the world. That we stand out in the right way.
And I found myself thinking about how this relates to writing.
Our stories have to fit the genre we are writing to and the expectations of that genre. They have to belong. Yet they also have to stand out in their uniqueness—I am the same as you, but I am inherently different and special.
It is our individual life experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly, that shape who we are—our psyche, our views on the world around us, our responses to events. Our unique lens through which we view the world impacts on what stories we write, the way we draw characters, the events we throw at them and the way we have them act and react.
There is this strange parallel to my daughter’s visits to her psychologist and in critiquing. Both are diagnosing tools and both are valuable in identifying strengths and weaknesses we are sometimes too close to see. But they are aides to further knowledge and understanding, not roadmaps. There is no ‘one fit solution’, and it would be easier if that weren’t true.
I want my story to be understood, for people to get it. So, naturally, I want to work on those aspects that deter the reader from experiencing it fully. The danger lies in too much editing. Remove too much originality and the story loses its heart and leaves us with a story that is generic and bland. Or creates undue stress to make it fit to someone else’s perception of what it should be. Only you know what works for you.
It takes courage and a sense of fearlessness to be true to yourself and celebrate what makes you, you. The same is true for the stories you have to share.
It is through the little quirks we each have, our different perspectives on life and the world around us, created from our unique life experiences, that allow us to take a generic plot and create something valuable and unique and gift it to the world.
In art and life and parenthood we have the power to change someone’s life.
Which is a powerful thought.
Just remember to use your powers for good J