Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Conform or Be Unique?

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” ~ Margaret Mead

This quote really resonates with me as an educator as well as a writer. In teaching, we strive to individualize instruction and cater to the needs of all students. We see the unique talents each student has. We also see the unique struggles each student faces. Our goal is to make the curriculum accessible to all students regardless of their different circumstances. We do this on a daily basis for 180 days a year.

And yet, with all these specialized plans and accommodations and modifications and juggling acts and scripts and what sometimes amounts to a theater-level production, we eventually expect these children to grow into citizens who will be treated pretty much the same when it comes to getting a job and functioning in society. There’s a certain level of conformity that we expect them to be able to tolerate. Current trends in education with Common Core State Standards support this notion. While the standards don’t tell us how to teach, they do tell us what to teach. They strive to make sure every student masters the same information. It’s not a bad idea, however, it does squash that uniqueness. It does sort of shout, “You will learn exactly what everyone else is learning! You will be the same.”

Sometimes it all gets a little stuffy. I try to balance my classroom with some room to be different, to explore, to find the sheer joy in learning something that interests you. Unfortunately, time is short. One hundred eighty days goes by in the blink of an eye.

In the way of writing, authors love to think we’re unique, but pick up any book off the actual or digital shelf and you’ll find common themes, plots, settings, and characters. We’re probably just writing different versions of the same five stories. Another writer once told me, “There are no new ideas.” Sometimes I believe that.

Other times… I don’t.

I’m starting a new series and I’m hoping it is unlike anything I’ve written before. I’ve been studying up on different components of the writing craft, trying to reach new levels, dig deeper, expand my thinking. This series will still be romance (I’ve tried NOT writing romance and I simply can’t do it), but I’m delving into sci-fi and thriller a bit. I thought about the characters I would normally write about and am making a conscious effort to change it up. I’m leaving the present time and shooting to the future. I’m getting out of the woods and away from mountain men heroes. I’m tossing aside the sweet, feminine heroines. I’m looking to fashion a villain that isn’t a jealous ex-wife, crazy business partner, or evil mob boss.

I’m looking to be unique and not like everyone else. We’ll see how it goes. Don’t worry. There’ll still be a happily ever after, 100% guaranteed. I don’t want to go too different. Readers come to have certain expectations from an author.

I guess this rambling post has led me to conclude that you need to decide when to conform and when to be unique. There’s a place for both, don't you think?   

The Maple Leaf Series
More Than Pancakes (Always FREE!)
More Than Cookies
More Than Rum

More Than Pizza, Coming Soon!


Margo Hoornstra said...

Nothing wrong with changing it up, Chris. Stretch and grow in your writing. As far as students go, hopefully they will take and use what has value for and interests them. As long as we all do our best, the rest will come.

Jannine Gallant said...

As a parent, those standardized tests make me crazy. I swear it's more about your skill at test taking than your actual knowledge of the subject. My older daughter gets crazy high scores because she can figure out what answer they want even if she isn't 100% sure of the material. My younger daughter has never been able to take tests. If she doesn't 100% know the answer, she randomly guesses. A fair assessment of their knowledge? Probably not. As a teacher, I'm sure your frustration is even greater than mine! Best of luck with your jump into a new and different world. Sounds fun!

Leah St. James said...

This reminds me of corporate performance reviews. I've been through many, in different companies, different formats and processes. But the one thing that seems constant is that staff ratings are crammed into a preconceived bell curve of results, so only a tiny percentage can attain those highest number rankings.

Thank goodness fiction isn't "ranked" like that. Can you imagine if you were leaving a rating on Amazon or Goodreads and you got an error message? "We're sorry. This book has reached its limit of 5 stars...."

Hmmmm...think I better shut up now!

Good luck with the new series, Chris! It's fun to try new things...and it's fun to read new things from a favorite authors.

Donna Michaels said...

I like thinking outside the box, so changing it up is normal to me.

The standardize testing is definitely not a good measure of a student's knowledge. It hurts the student who is terrible at taking tests but knows the subject inside and out. The low score also hurts the school, reflecting bad on it and the teacher. And that is wrong.

Best of luck on your new writing venture! I can't wait to hear more!

Diane Burton said...

Changing up your genre is a great way to stretch your abilities. Best wishes on your new venture.