Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Phooey to Formulas

If I try to be like him, who will be like me?

That’s an old Yiddish proverb. {For someone who doesn’t speak Yiddish, I’m full of Yiddishisms. If there was ever a culture that looked at it itself with gentle irony and managed to balance humor and pathos, it’s Yiddish.}

I don’t have this subtle balance, and my utterings sound judgmental. So back to the ‘who will be like me’ point- how do you convey a dislike for formulaic thinking, formulaic writing, and, well, FORMULAS?

When I began writing I didn’t know all the you’re-supposed-to-thises and you’re-supposed-to-thats. I wrote, and wrote some of my most original stories. Not formulaic, and also not publishable. Eager to get more than form rejections, I learned to ‘be like him,’ to know what is expected. To study the rules and by-pass them only for a compelling reason. I still get a lot of rejections, but many are requests to re-submit and encouragement for my writing.

In the back of my mind that Yiddish voice, reminding me to ‘be like me,’ beckons me. Somehow I find myself searching for this balance- to be like him, and be like me.

{Now I wish I knew Yiddish, because if any language can embrace dichotomies and contradictions, this is it. You know about two Jews and three opinions, right?}

When editors say they are looking for something ‘different,’ writers on chat-boards have surmised they mean ‘something that is the same, but with a difference.’ Rare is the editor who is really looking for something that has no trace of formula in it. Something different.

Well, this is my struggle and my *sigh* today. Come sigh like me…


  1. I suspect most editors don't know what they're really looking for until the find it. ;)

  2. Yes, Ann. I think this applies to all of us.

  3. "Something that is the same, but with a difference," thanks so much for sharing that. I think that's it exactly. Now as we try to apply that to our own writing, I'll sigh like you. . .

  4. Yup, same, but different. Actually, I'm a big fan of patterns and formulas (and math). I think it's one of the best ways to figure out how to stick your story into a pattern that works.

    I like all the Yiddish sayings. Keep 'em coming.

    1. Should have said that formulas are a must for scientists. Not surprised you like them, Vijaya.

  5. *sigh* Yep, know the feeling! I've decided that the magic trick is to write something wholly original yet within all the constraints modern publishing expects. Easy, right?

  6. This is why I write like me and hope for the best. ;)

  7. I'm with Vijaya here. Love math, love patterns. And love the Yiddish sayings.

  8. I feel safe with formulas...that's why writing is hard...formulas are more subjective. How to find that original, fresh, yet same book idea is quite difficult! BIG SIGH....