Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rules for Writing

Over the last few weeks, I have read lots of blogs about writing, hoping to get a tip here or there about getting published and also to connect to other writers. 

But many of the tips have made me question myself as a writer at a time when I haven't been able to write - either because my back hurt too much to sit or because I was feeling a little comfortably numb from the meds.  Just a little of what I've read lately is that adverbs are out of style, it's best to repeat the word "said" and use nothing else to point to the person who speaks, and that characterization must be done in a very specific way.  We can't let things happen to our characters - they must do all the work.  There's probably something else out there saying I shouldn't overuse dashes as much as I do - I don't care - I like them.

When you're not in the middle of writing, it's easy to doubt yourself - or maybe it's the other way. 

The fact is there's no one way to write.  There are no rules.  It's a creative process, and we have to trust ourselves.  We have to trust our voice, whether or not that voice sings at the same pitch as the mainstream. 

Stay with me here if you aren't a mommy - Barney songs, I think all of them, borrow a tune from a popular children's song with the words changed to make them seem new.  That's why little kids love every Barney song.  Do you want your novel, poem, or short story to be a popular Barney song that people love because it's familiar?  Or do you want it to be something no one has heard before? 

It's art.  There are no rules. 

I concede the fact that publishers have rules.  So it's risky to go outside the mainstream if you want to make an indecent amount of money and be so famous that people follow you around with cameras.  I don't.  I want to tell stories that make people laugh so hard they almost pee their pants.  I want to make people cry just a little when things go badly when you think they can't get worse. 

I shake off the self-doubt today. 

I suck it up and remember the people I used to work with that laughed out loud when they read my then-funny blog (a different one) about a certain single mom's post-divorce struggles.  I remember my co-workers wiping their tears (from laughter) when my life got to its lowest point and my writing voice became it's funniest. 

I will remember the room full of women that laughed out loud the last time I read one of my stories at a public reading.  And the laughter the time before that when I read out loud in class.   No one can tell me I'm not quite doing it right if the emotion I wanted to elicit from readers bursts out of them. 

I will remember the people who told me they loved my story and were touched by it on the day I had the nerve to read out loud a sad story that made me cry when I read it. 

I am not doing it wrong. 

My writing isn't for everyone - and neither is yours.  Do your thing.  Get feedback to get it polished, but let's stop listening to global tips about writing - and stop giving them as if we are the one authority on how to write a story.


  1. Hey, there's so much advice online, it can make you nuts! Everytime I think I think I've figured out a new rule, I find out it was wrong. Crap.
    Write for you, write often, and enjoy it!

  2. @Blue - You know, I wouldn't have recognized that day at the public reading as a success if you hadn't put it right in my face. Thanks. :)

    @Alex - It wasn't you. I should have said that. I wasn't offended at all by anyone's blogs I follow. It's more the sites of agents and publishers letting us know their pet peeves constantly and giving us writing advice when they are presumably just readers.

    If we can write without constraints, perhaps we can be amazing....

  3. The guidelines you mentioned aren't so much rules as guides that help beginning writers shake off bad habits. (Incidentally, the part about not favoring adverbs has more to do with narrative, not dialog. You can have characters who use adverbs in a habitual way.) A good way to balance the terse advice you've been given is to read an entry I recently discovered. It's
    So yes, tighten up the sentences that have weak or superfluous words, but allow your style to work, so people will enjoy reading what you write.

  4. @Mark - I am an M Pax follower and have read this. The difference in her writing is she is speaking from her experience, not setting rules for the rest of us. And she's a huge supporter of other writers (me included).

    My point is I'm not looking for advice on how to write. But when I run across it, sometimes it makes me question myself - my guess is I'm not alone. As writers we need to stand strong and trust our writing voice - and take the time to polish it when/where it matters to us.

    Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment.

  5. Scotti Cohn, an author who writes both children's books and young adults, wrote a post on a similar topic. She had asked students to think of their favorite book and write a letter to its author, explaining why they loved it:

    "Not one letter thanked an author for using active voice instead of passive. Nobody said he was inspired by the minimal use of adverbs. Not a single student wrote "Thank you for showing, not telling.""

    She concludes, "Mechanics and techniques have their place, but only when we write from the heart does our work have the potential to change lives for the better."

  6. August - I love the quotes. So true.

  7. Hi! I found you through Laura's blog :D

    What a great reminder! It's too easy to try and compare ourselves with others. Writing is an art, and not everyone likes the same things. It's just really hard to "get" that when people don't like what you've written.

  8. @Barbara - Thanks for stopping by and for following. I agree - books and writers I don't enjoy are my husband's favorites and vice versa. It still is hard to hear if it's your writing.