We all do it to some degree. And before you go off on how you always do what you want, when you want and screw what anyone else thinks, when you went to the company Christmas party, did you dress like everyone else, to expectation, or did you show up looking like a crazy homeless princess?
Yeah, I thought so.
The “be yourself” motto worked great in college – professors may not have liked it when we showed up in pajamas, but if we showed up at all and did the work, most prof’s were actually happy enough to let the jammy’s thing slide (unless you were in the business curriculum or the 400 level classes – you were kinda expected to keep yourself somewhat confined to the “norm”). “Be yourself” worked because you’re supposed to “stretch your wings” and try to discover what it is you really want and who you really are and all that.
After college, you’re expected to conform and fit in with the rest of society. Be productive. Act professional. Wear socks that match.
And because most of us are interested in eating regularly and sleeping indoors, and maybe getting a bit ahead, we do act as society prompts us to.
So we all cater to the expectations of society to some degree. We don’t wear thong swimwear to a black tie formal (maybe under the suit and tie, but not just the swimwear). If the theme is “Lake Foam Green, we don’t piss off our hosts by dressing in “Sea Foam Green” (bonus points if you understand that reference). If your work attire is listed as needing to be “business casual,” that means you don’t wear pajamas to the office. Even on “casual” Friday.
And if your local school issues an advisory that they’ve received numerous calls about “scary clowns” and that they are working with police to investigate the matter, even though this is the first you’ve heard of such sightings in your area, and they’ve banned all clown costumes from the property, including those for students, you sure as hell change your costume plans for the big parade at your kids school if your costume is one that completely conceals your person, like this:
This was my original costume plan. My kids’ school has a little parade on their Halloween day in which they march all the kids around the perimeter of the school for the neighborhood to see the costumes and such. Parents are invited to come and watch, but must stay on the other side of the street off school property during said parade. I thought it would be fun to wear my troll costume and carry a sign that said something like “2nd Grade, Daniel and Sara’s Mom” complete with letters turned backwards and misspellings and so on.
Then the clowns started up and everyone began losing their minds.
So now I’ll probably choose the exotic faux Russian/fantasy outfit I have. Ugh. Talk about boring.
My kids are saying I need to walk them around on Halloween because I always stay home to give out candy. Now I’m wondering if I would be safe wearing the troll costume as an escort for my kids, or if I’d get the shit kicked out of me because people can’t easily identify me.
What does this have to do with writing?
They say write what you want – but don’t go too far out in left field or no one will read your work.
You’re told to break the rules, because that’s when innovation happens – but don’t get too exotic, or you’ll piss off your target audience.
They say write what you love – but it better be what’s hot at the moment, or you’ll fail in an epic fashion.
Throw everything you have into the business of writing if you want to succeed – but don’t quit your day job.
So the rather mixed message is –people want something new and interesting, but for the love of every god that ever existed, don’t give them something truly different. Make it look nifty and new, but really, make sure it’s the same thing just with a different coat of paint slapped on it.
Conform or fail. Walk your own path, or die inside.
Where’s the line that marks the difference between “exciting opportunity” and “unacceptable risk?”
When is “original” defined as “wrong?”
At what point does “safety” become “sterility?”