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Borders & Boundaries
Borders & Boundaries
by Lynne Golodner
“These have to be word-of-mouth books because they’re too weird to describe to anyone.” This is what Diana Gabaldon’s editor said when trying to classify the first Outlander book as romance.
She shared this in a virtual talk in Scotland that I watched while furiously taking notes. Boy can that woman speak in a riveting and funny way! The advice, anecdotes and experiences just rolled off her tongue, and the audience was rapt.
She talked about borders and boundaries. Borders are physical, Diana said, while boundaries are not.
Are genres boundaries? Can we span genres? Do we have to fit within the narrows defined by the publishing industry to make more money, sell more books?
Or can we defy constraints, do things differently and still succeed?
Well, judging by the plethora of self-published authors finding more success sometimes than traditionally-published authors, I’d say yes.
According to the Alliance of Independent Authors, self-published authors earn more than authors who are traditionally published. Plus, self-published female authors earn more than self-published male authors!
In her talk, Diana Gabaldon broached the ever-popular topic of “identity politics” - the notion that you can only write about your own life. That is so not true!
“Don’t write what you don’t know,” cautions Diana. And, “you can find out what you don’t know.”
This was certainly true for Diana Gabaldon, who wrote a series of novels about a time-traveling British woman from the early 20th century who lands in 18th century Scotland when the author herself had never been to Scotland. Way back in the 1980s, she couldn’t even virtually visit since the internet was not yet a thing for book research.
Borders shift, she said, but people stay. “A person’s sense of self isn’t one-dimensional. People can write about any aspect of their lives, their interests, other people. You can write anything you want, and don’t let anyone stop you.”
Do you realize that the borders we accept today didn’t always exist? People cut up the land into nation-states and segregate cultures, but that doesn’t mean the world needs to be that way. As a writer, might you imagine a borderless world?
Diana Gabaldon’s 3 rules for writing:
1.     Read everything you can get your hands on. Read good and bad writing and figure out what makes one bad and one good. Why did you like one book over another?
a.     Good dialogue has short sentences. Should sound the way people sound.
b.     Don’t ever try to write something because you think it will sell. Things written like that are not authentic, and they won’t sell. Write what you want to write.
2.     Write. Actually putting words on paper is the only thing that will teach you to write.
a.     Words on the page can be changed. Move things around.
3.     Don’t stop writing. Even if you get frustrated or upset. Every word you write will help you be a better writer.
a.     Never throw anything away. You might find an idea or a kernel from what you remove from a draft and save.
b. Conflict is what you need for a good story!
Don’t limit yourself by setting imaginary borders or boundaries on what is possible for you. Sometimes borders exist in our heads. They become so real that we believe we cannot transcend them or cross over into another way of thinking or being.
I have conversations with myself regularly about what is real and what I have imagined. It’s fascinating, really, to see how much exists in my made-up mind. Great for a writer, not good for a person trying to live without stress.
Go big! Live big! Do the thing you’ve dreamed of. Write the damn book.


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