Monday morning my husband had the radio on ESPN and Colin Cowherd was ranting about some quarterback who had a poor game.
I'm not a sports fan, so I didn’t care a great deal, But I started listening because the guy makes a lot of sense.
Cowherd says a quarterback needs consistency, and before he can be consistent he needs to know who he is and what kind of game he’s playing. Sounds a lot like being a writer. And a winning game plan for life, too.
Take Matt de la Peña, a young adult writer I heard speak at a writing conference this summer. Matt says writers must have their own voice, which I took to mean, they have to know who they are, where they’re coming from.
Matt came from poverty in a California border town. His strong authorial voice gains his novels critical acclaim. At the heart of Matt’s work is young people’s desire to be seen.
“I’ve always wanted to write about the other side of the tracks, the have-nots,” he says, “maybe because that’s who I was. I’ve always thought it was super important, out of respect, that I show the forgotten kids, the group with ‘less potential.’ Because I really think there is beauty there, too. And grace. And dignity.
Cowherd talks about a player or a team knowing what they do best and consistently doing that no matter what opponent they’re facing. But even hard-working, talented people don’t have an easy time discovering what it is they do best. Or believing in their own grace and dignity.
Matt didn’t always see himself as a writer. Winning a big writing contest in college helped.
“That validation, those professors picking me, it completely changed the way I viewed myself. For the first time in my life I thought, man, maybe I am smart.” Still, when it came time for grad school, his professors applied for Matt behind his back because he didn’t identify as grad school material.
In an interview on Blogtalk Radio, Matt spoke of the struggles of his main character in the book MEXICAN WHITE BOY.
“I think Danny was the hardest character I’ve written so far for one simple reason, and that is, he’s probably the closest to me in terms of the stuff he’s dealing with. I was a biracial kid—father Mexican, mom white, just like Danny.”
Writers have the advantage of digging deeply into the question of self-identity in their daily process. I’m guessing athletes work at this daily, too, practicing their sport. Maybe some of their biggest discoveries come on Sunday in front of a million people.
What about you? What is it that you’re best at and how consistent are you? Digging deeper, do you know who you really are? How do you continue that journey of self-discovery? Go ahead, leave a comment.
PS Matt de la Peña is teaching a intensive for writers in Spokane, WA November 16th. He’ll talk about how characters reveal who they are through dialogue. It’ll be a chance to workshop your work-in-progress.
Sign up here.
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