How Do YOUR Writing Shoes Fit?

January 14, 2012

The book title that caught my eye, and inspired this reflection on writing, is Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Although the edition I have is the 75th Anniversary Edition, I just bought it and read it for the first time this summer while I was in Walton-on-Thames, England.

It says a lot for a book when it is still in print so many years after being published. I wonder how many of the plethora of books published for children in 2012 will still be around in seventy-five years?

Ballet shoes.

I wonder if little girls are ever disappointed when they first start ballet lessons, and discover that it will be a long time before they get to wear what we usually think of as “ballet shoes” and dance en pointe? I know I would have been, back in the days when I answered “a ballerina and a cowgirl” when anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. (Since neither ballet lessons nor riding lessons were an option when I was a child, I became neither. I’m more suited for singing and playing the piano, anyway.)

Just as young ballet students start off wearing soft leather slippers, and eventually graduate to the specially made shoes which will enable them to dance on their toes, writers must start at the learning level and work hard, practice, do exercises, practice some more, to eventually stand up on the pointe shoes of being published.

Sometimes, a writer may start out wanting to write one particular kind of book, wanting his or her writing to be just like their most admired writer, and so they find themselves trying to fit into shoes that weren’t meant for them, and the pain can be excruciating as they discover that they weren’t meant to dance en pointe.

But perhaps they were meant to do tap, instead. Or jazz, or jive. Sometimes a writer has to try on several different shoes, several different styles, before finding the one that fits. Someone, commenting on my previous post about genre, suggested we writers are like Prince Charming, looking for the one perfect fit to the glass slipper we hold in our hand. Or perhaps we are like all the other young women in the kingdom, for whom Cinderella’s slipper didn’t fit — and we just need to find our own best fit.

Just because we can’t dance exactly like that mentor or idol whom we so admire, doesn’t mean we should stop dancing. It just means that we need to find our own perfect fit, and do the dance we were meant to do, write the books that are ours to write.

18 People reacted on this

  1. I love this line of questioning, Beth. I know I am not following a writer or a trend, but I certainly cannot say that I am sure I have found my golden slipper, and I am OK with trying on all that I am offered. I certainly am committed to dancing my unique dance, however odd that may look 🙂

    1. It could be that there are a few golden slippers that will fit you perfectly, Joanna. Unlike with Cinderella, who was the only one in the entire Kingdom who could wear that particular slipper, we may find that several types of dance, and the slippers thereof, are a good fit.

  2. This is a wonderful analogy. I know when I was a kid I experienced the same feelings when I took dance and it wasn’t what I expected.
    Writing is a lot like that but I’m glad I’ve stuck with it. I like going back and seeing what I’ve written in the past and see how it compares to what I write now.

    1. It’s an affirming experience to see how far we’ve come with our writing, isn’t it, Carrie? (And I’m glad to know I was accurate when I pondered about how a little girl might feel when confronted with the reality of a beginner’s dance class.) Thank you!

  3. What a lovely analogy, Beth. I also think that sometime writers can be cross-trainers, if you will 🙂 That more than one kind of shoes might fit them. There are lots of examples of authors who write PBs and MG, or MG and YA, or even an adult genre and PBs…. You’re right, though. It’s about finding the right fit. Sometimes what we think we desperately want to write just isn’t where our strengths lie. In addition, you’re wrestling with story (which is more like riding a horse than dancing because you’re dealing with a whole other animal!) Sometimes the story we want to write won’t go into the genre we want to write it in – some stories just don’t make picture books – they need to be chapter books; some stories are only going to work as short stories, not as a whole novel….

  4. I say allow yourself to have a whole wardrobe of different shoes if you want and not tie yourself down to just one pair! Nice post, Beth!

  5. Although I hadn’t really thought of it this way before, this is actually very true. I know I started off in a completely different genre than what I am writing now. But it didn’t fit. Now I’m trying a “new pair of shoes”. So far, the fit is much better…just a bit more crowded in the YA area 🙂

  6. As a former dancer, I know precisely what you mean about desperately wanting those pointe shoes, and being so sad to have to wait. It’s a great analogy. It took me a while to figure out what kind of writer I wanted to be, and even after publication, I still find that I’m experimenting in different genres.

    1. Thank you so much, Tracey, for confirming what I thought about little girls learning about having to wait for those wonderful pointe shoes.

      I’m glad you’re still experimenting in different genres — there’s nothing that says we can only have one kind of dancing shoes in our closet!

  7. Hi, Beth. Love this post! I enjoyed the book Ballet Shoes as a child and have been meaning to reread it one of these days. I think I still have a copy of it in a box in our basement, and your post reminds me that I need to find it again one of these days! Your post also reminds me how I bought a brand new pair of pointe shoes when I went off to college but never wore them because I discovered modern dance…a form of dance I didn’t really know about before but was such a better fit for me. So the last line of your post especially resonates with me…. “It just means that we need to find our own perfect fit, and do the dance we were meant to do, write the books that are ours to write.”

    1. Thanks, Kerry! Modern dance is so wonderful to watch, I’m sure it’s even more wonderful to do! There’s so much scope for expression in it.

      I’m so glad that line resonated with you. Thanks for telling me so.

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