Dang, that's one emo post title...Sorry about that.
Anyway, it has a point, I swear, so just hold on tight and we'll get there.
Some my readers may already know that I am engaged to an amazing, wonderful man. I'm not being sentimental or gushy because we're engaged; I've known him for 4.5 years and we've been a couple for just under that time. He is really a great guy who is both loving and willing to put up with a lot. That and he's been mistaken for Prince William (who is not as good looking as my man. Sorry Kate.)
Okay, so I'm engaged. Ever since a) some good friends of ours got engaged and b) I went to Disney World at Christmas time, I've pretty much been planning my wedding, mostly for fun. I've had a hundred different ideas for food, venues, my dress, my friends' dresses, whether my dog should walk down the aisle with me, and other such things. Now that I'm seriously planning a wedding for approximately a year from now, I'm getting serious about the little details such as food and locations. What I do know: I'm getting married to an amazing man, the cake will be chocolate, and Chick-fil-a food trays are great for any party. I'm happy to get married at my church, or a church in town, and I have picked three options in my hometown for the reception venue. But for a while there I caught it.
Yes, the wedding bug. No, this is no cutesy animal that makes you excited about centerpieces and favors and such. This particular species of wedding bug injects an otherwise safe neurotoxin that leads women to think things such as "I must get married at Cinderella's castle" (that was me y'all...totally was gonna rent the coach and everything) and "$9,000 isn't that outrageous for a gown...." Suddenly, it becomes necessary to have live circus acrobats at the reception (gee thanks, David Tutera) and fine caviar for every guest, just as a wedding favor. The wedding must culminate in an all-night blowout lasting until two in the morning. $70,000 is a potential price, though $100,000 weddings for normal, non-famous people, are not unheard of. Inviting everyone in your zip code, whether you know them or not, or like them or not, is the thing to do.
Suddenly, a simple dress with a simple church wedding, where just your family and friends are there and where you dance and eat delicious cake is not enough. It seems painfully inadequate to have a simple, old-fashioned wedding with good food and great music and just plain fun. Wedding magazines inform you that the sub tray at your reception is cheap instead of nice. You feel shamed into spending far too much to impress people who a) already know you or b) don't really know you well at all.
Yeah, for a while I bought into this. I was going to have a reception at an outrageously expensive location, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh (great place, though. Gorgeous.) The ceremony, in order to cut down on traveling time so that people would come to the reception, would be held at the All Saints Chapel, a block away from the museum. The total would have come to $3,000, only for the venue. Not terrible, but then you have to use the approved caterers, and they're expensive, because they're good. And let's just be honest, photographers charge way too much for a service in which they keep the pictures and all rights to said pictures.
Recently, I've decided that I don't want all that extra stuff. I just want to get married. I want it to be special and elegant, not over the top and stupidly elaborate. Namely, I want to be able to pay cash for it. It's mine and my fiance's wedding, not anyone else's.
You'll run into the exact same thing with your writing, but usually it's not even as intentional as it is with weddings. Most writers inflict that feeling of inadequate awesomeness on themselves.
It starts this way. You pick up a good novel and start reading. Maybe it can even be a guilty pleasure book with good elements (Twilight, for example, has some solid dialogue between various characters. It flows naturally, and I appreciate that in any book. Harry Potter and Elantris both also are forefront in my mind and have examples of natural flowing dialogue.) You're going to see something you like in a book that you feel you lack in your own fiction. Rules of magic, cool dialogue, an air of suspense, or a fantastical setting are only a few examples. So you start tweaking what you don't like, only you tweak it according to someone else's work. This is not plagiarizing by any means. You just tend to lose your unique voice by trying to live up to whatever author you've picked. Eventually, your book becomes unwieldy and brimming with main characters who suddenly develop a natural ability with swords, or the always popular nation of Pseudo-Germa-France. Chosen Ones who aren't chosen by anyone in particular drop in from nowhere, or from a tiny village, or from a sketchy intergalactic neighborhood, and dangit, I've never seen an ugly elf. (Someone please invent one. Please.) Eventually, your book becomes little more than a copy of something else. A real life example? Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. It's been criticized as being very much like Star Wars, and as much as I like the series, I agree. Turn the elf forest from the second book into a swamp, and you've got Dagobah with a taller mentor and metal swords. There were enough differences to keep my attention, and I do enjoy the books. The fourth one, called Inheritance (really? Inheritance: Inheritance?) debuts November 8th. I'll be buying it, because Paolini's writing has matured with him, and that's nice to read. But for anyone who's seen Star Wars, the first book generates a voice in the back of your mind going "THIS IS STAR WARS FOR THE DARK AGES." It means that somewhere, the author's voice was drowned out just a tad. Letting that happen too much will hand you the big fat stamp of "RIPOFF." (I'm not yelling at you, I swear. But can't you just picture that word, stamped in big red letters on a book cover?)
So while I'm seeing that the other girl over there has a full orchestra booked for her ceremony and serves gold-leafed cake on china plates, I have to remind myself that I don't really care. It may be beautiful, and wonderfully done, but it's hers and her fiance's wedding. So-and-so may have an amazingly detailed world where the sky is green and purple and fairies fart magic and it may be awesome...but it's not mine. I'm happy with two teenagers, best friends, discovering something they'd never suspect and dealing with all the changes that come.
I've said it many times before: be you. Find your voice and project it in your own work, and you won't be disappointed.
And if anyone's wondering, my wedding favors will be homemade chocolate chip cookies, because the ones I make are awesome. Just saying.