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?
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.