You can tell a lot about a person by his/her shoes. Yes, it’s a snap judgment, a tiny thumbnail of a much more complex picture of heart, mind, and soul. But still. I like to study people’s shoes, especially writers’ shoes, because I am always fascinated by their choices.
Many are comfy, worn in, perfectly molded to the wearer’s foot. Some are impossibly clever, showing off hidden depths of talent (see Rebecca’s Harry Potter shoes). Still others are fancy, or quirky, or bold–shining with character and originality.
The mistake I make is wishing I could wear them all. (Warning: shameless use of metaphor ahead!) At our annual agency retreat, we do readings of works in progress. Even as I listen in awe, I lapse into melancholy over the display of talent. My brain declares: “I could never write like that!” (Or in Metaphor Land: “I could never pull off those strappy three-inch spike heels! I’d trip over my own feet!”)
And so it goes: Why aren’t my topics more edgy and why don’t they matter more? Why can’t I write with that much honesty? Why don’t my adjectives sparkle like that? Why can’t I be that original and important and WORTHY? Why, why, why?
The truth is, there are too many kinds of shoes in the world to wear them all. But some shoes suit us so well! Others we have to try on and walk around in for a while before they feel like a good fit. And some we’re just not meant to wear. But that’s okay. Our
shoes writing should reflect the unique, fabulous message that only we have to offer.
It took me a while to come to terms with this. I devoured ghost stories as a kid. I loved mystery and adventure. Maybe, just maybe, I could even write my own mysteries when I grew up. When high school pulled me away from the books I loved to read Important books, I was devastated. Partly because I thought it meant I had to leave my favorite books behind, and partly because so many of those Important books were so dang bleak.
Yes, we must stretch ourselves, read everything, learn, grow, discover, rise up, reach out, all those things. But if there is no passion behind the things we write about, no love, no personal truth, then what’s the point? There, I said it. My personal truth is writing about things that go bump in the night. Maybe there’s a deep psychological reason behind it. Maybe I just enjoy books that send a shiver up my spine.
I certainly don’t think that writers should limit themselves to just one type of “shoe.” What a ho-hum world that would be! In fact, I bought a pair of vintage Italian platform shoes for a costume party and ended up falling in love with them and wearing them out in public. Who knew? But there are certain types of shoes I will probably never buy or wear. (Anything with an animal print comes to mind.) And there are certain genres and topics that just aren’t for me. I have made my peace with it. Thank heaven there are enough writers and books and shoes for every possible occasion.
Right now we’re on vacation in northern Wisconsin. After a summer of line edits and working on a book proposal and ferrying kids around to endless activities, it’s nice to recharge and give my brain a rest. I can squish my toes in the sand, sink into the sound of lapping waves. Ideas come and go as they please, a gentle ebb and flow without the pressure of plot or the structure of story.
Sometimes it’s nice to just go barefoot.
Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.