Monday, July 7, 2008

Wishing for Duck Feet

I re-read a very profound book the other day, written by a sage named Theo. LeSieg--more commonly known as Dr. Seuss. The book is called I Wish That I Had Duck Feet.

I hadn't read it since I was about seven years old, and trust me, that was a long, long time ago. But it always stuck with me, probably because it scared me. Yes, it's true. I've admitted here before that I was once traumatized by Muppets, and I Wish That I Had Duck Feet made me squirm a little, too.

The boy in the book daydreams about various wonderful things that animals have that he doesn't--like duck feet, deer antlers, elephant trunk, etc. One at a time he envisions himself with these new appendages, first picturing all the neat new things he'll be able to do and the admiration he'll get from his friends. But then realizes the drawbacks and has second thoughts.

Here comes the scary part. He imagines adding all these new attributes to himself at once, which turns him into a whole new creature called a Which-What-Who. In this sorry state, with webbed feet and a long trunk and big old horns, he's not admired but feared. Eventually, he ends up in a cage on display at the circus.

All this is only a daydream, of course. He makes the wise decision that it's best to just be himself, and all is well.

So why am I telling you this? This book kept coming to mind as I mull over my so-called writing career, and the direction I need to take in the future.

When I first started writing, I was just little old me. I wrote the stories that presented themselves to me and didn't worry too much about what to call them.

Then came writers' conferences, and critiques, and meetings with editors and agents and authors, and loads of well-meaning advice. "I think this is really a young adult novel. You should adjust the language." "This is really an adult novel. The characters should be older." "This is close to being a romantic suspense, but you need to look at those guidelines." "This is too literary for a commercial novel. Maybe you should become a literary writer."

One after one, I've taken my poor manuscripts and glued on other appendages. Whacked off my nice psychological ending to give it the traditional romantic suspense, heroine-backed-into-a-corner ending. Removed the "literary" language and tried to make it sound commercial. Sawed it off at the ankles to stick on those duck feet.

After all those Frankenstein treatments, a few of my manuscripts have ended in the trash heap. I think I turned them into unrecognizable Which-What-Whos.

So now the challenge is to be myself, even in my writing. To take the good things I've learned and apply them, but not try to attach so many foreign appendages that I turn my stories into monsters. To discover what I want a novel to be and make it just that--not a conglomeration of ideas and genres and goals.

If any of you out there are as wise as Dr. Seuss and would like to chime in on this, I'd love to hear from you.