Lightning Scars (And Not Harry Potter's)
I was struck by lightning the other day.
Okay, yes, fine, it wasn't literal lightning. More literary lightning. I was in the middle of a thought for my Scare Bear WIP - Book 2 of my series - when CRACK! Down came an idea for Book 3 that electrified me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. Then I had the happy hyperventilating thing going on as I reviewed what this new idea would mean, what it would require, how hard it would be to execute, and what its rating on the crazy-o-meter was. Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! A solid 10 on the crazy-o-meter.
Hence the happy hyperventilating.
And the crazy giggles.
And the general numbness throughout my limbs.
Lightning had struck.
The first time I remember feeling this way was several years ago, right after I turned down an offer of publication from a small press. (This was well before I signed with my agent.) It was actually the offer itself that got the storm clouds brewing in my mind, prepping the perfect bolt. The editor was wonderfully enthusiastic about my story and characters, but she had a small change in mind for my world-building. This wasn't a make it or break it part of the offer, merely a suggestion, but one I took seriously. The question I asked myself was not, "Should I make this small change that will have little to no consequence to the overall story?" but "Why is this change so small? Why is something that I intended to be a major part of this world so easy to remove?"
In retrospect, I know the answer. I was afraid. I was afraid that my beautiful, fictional world would become too unusual, too quirky, so I held back. But those self-imposed bars restricting my creativity were making me feel restless, uneasy, and insincere. And here was my crossroads. I could accept the offer of publication and move forward knowing, in my heart of hearts, that my story was not all it could be. Or I could turn it down, unlock my creativity's cage, and see where it would take me.
And lightning struck.
It took a year and a half to rewrite my first novel, and in that time happy hyperventilating, crazy giggles, and numb limbs became the norm. My creativity was free, and it roared with the desire to chew up stereotypes, rip genre tropes to shreds, and run wildly, playfully through fields of untried plots and unconventional narratives. Suddenly I was writing metafiction (arguably one of the hardest storytelling techniques to pull off), and it had ghosts in it and crazy, mind-bending time travel, and an adorable little storm cloud named Stormy who hangs over the head of a girl named Rose, and she loves it!
My story had gone insane. I had gone insane. It was the best decision I've ever made.
Something happens when you're struck by lightning, should you survive. You get burned. You get bruised. And when everything finally heals up, you have scars, little Lichtenberg figures permanently ridging your skin. You won't look like everyone else anymore. You won't blend into a crowd. But no matter how your life changes, lightning scars are beautiful. People admire them - some with revulsion, some with fascination, some with jealously, and some are so enamored they rush to the nearest tattoo parlor and have them created artificially across their skin.
Maybe you've been struck by lightning, too, but you hide your scars because you're afraid they won't be accepted. Don't! Recently, I was rejected by a lovely editor from a lovely publishing house who told me my book was unlike anything she'd ever seen before. Ultimately, however, she decided it might be too quirky to appeal to a wide audience. Were those the words to bring me to my knees? Well, yes, but that's because I was thanking God for helping me write the story He put in my heart. The weird, wonderful, quirky story that stands out from the crowd. That rejection was the best rejection I have to my name because it was confirmation that I'm on the right track.
Let's put it another way. It's not that quirky books won't appeal to a wide audience. It's that getting quirky books into the hands of a wide audience takes more effort than conventional stories. But that very quirkiness that makes your writing stand out - for better or worse - is the same quirkiness that will enable you to promote your book in creative, noticeable, and impactful ways. Start now! Use your quirkiness to your advantage. Engage with your writing and reading community, showcase your creativity, write blog posts, run giveaway, be funny, be yourself. Commit to your platform and show publishers that you are an author who's worth taking a chance on.
And when you're writing and you see a storm coming your way, don't be afraid to dance in the rain and let the lightning strike.