A week or so ago I concluded a month-long trip through France and Italy by spending some quality time in Paris. While I was there I visited my favorite Parisian museum, Musee de L’Orangerie.
The L’Orangerie was closed for renovations the last two times I visited the City of Lights, so it was a special treat. I have always loved this museum because it houses one of Claude Monet’s most luminous achievements: Les Nympheas, a series of eight water lily murals which took four years to complete over the course of WWI. These murals are nothing short of miraculous. They are a meditation on peace and light. They draw you into them; you feel the serenity, hear the birds chirping.
On past visits the museum also displayed a handful of Impressionist painting from Renoir, Dega, and Cezanne. To my surprise and delight, I found that the renovations were to expand the building so that it could hold the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Impressionist collection, featuring noteworthy works from Cezanne, Matisse, Modigiani and Picasso. Hundreds of beautiful paintings. There were twenty or more Renoirs alone. It is now a massive triumph. I found it overwhelming.
While studying the works from each painter, I realized something that I think applies to writing. Not every painting by these masters were masterpieces. Some were, to my untrained eye, quite ordinary. Yet, looking at a painting from across the room I could instantly tell if it were a Rousseau, or a Gauguin, or a Soutine. I notice that each artist had a distinctive style.
It seems to me that writers also work to develop a distinctive style, a voice, in their body of work. And I believe that developing that unique voice is more important than writing any one particular story, no matter how compelling that storyline is. So it really doesn’t matter if your current work is not getting the five-star reviews of earlier stories. Nobody, not even Picasso, hits one out of the park every time. What matters is that you keep developing that signature voice.