Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Elliot’s Peculiar Cruelty

Why? Do tell, T. S. - and then tell of the extra L you put in there, which my proofreading eye keeps wanting to change to cruelest.

This signature line, the beginning of the epic poem The Waste Land, seemed a good place to start. Not because it is April, but because it made me think how writing peculiarities are what separates the very good from the great.

It’s the artist’s “know the rules and then break the rules.”

I wonder if the How To books and the mechanical spell-checkers computer writing programs affect real creativity. I doubt they add to artistry in any way, and worry they may squelch it.

I look back at the very first stories I wrote with the intention to put them out in the world at large. What I wrote the first two years would be classified as unpublishable. I had not yet immersed myself in industry-mavens’ wisdom. I wrote using intuition and native sensibility. I created wholly original stories that, I later learned, would have a prospective editor hurl the pages at the wall in exasperation. Or, worse, have the editor laugh and read them to colleagues as examples of ineptitude.

As I began to read about what was expected, I tucked my initial efforts deep in the drawer and shuddered at ever re-reading any of these embarrassments. But something in me made sure I didn't burn the pages or delete the files.

Yesterday I opened one of the stories by accident. I was looking for another file and clicked on the wrong one. I found myself face to face with a story that broke all the rules. Well, not all, but close.

I didn't cringe. I marveled. It’s probably unpublishable, but it is different, full of the unexpected, and connected to the life-source of good writing in a way many of my later, more conventional offerings, are not.

It may be time to get back to the beginning and forget a lot of what I have learned. Ah, the cruelty of April. 
May is going to be busy. Lots of shedding to do.


  1. Sometimes breaking the writing rules works. Other times it can be a basis for a new story!

  2. I stumble across my early writing efforts at times and odd originality amuses me. I was writing just for myself back then ... and it's a window into my own weirdness. It's good that I wasn't aware of markets and such ...

    May you get back both your originality and market-savvy in May. But whilst it's April, play.

  3. I've broken a few rules myself, not just in writing but in querying too. So far, it's worked out for me. I wonder when I'll push my luck. ;)

  4. Yeah, I'd like to get some eggplant with my eggs. ;-)

    I'd like to regain the innocence and freshness I once had, when I didn't know what I was doing, broke all the rules, and didn't know or care. I wrote some truly original, and, yes, weird things that still make me laugh when I pull them out of the drawer.

    I think I should put a sticky note on my desktop which says, BREAK A RULE TODAY!

    1. Barbara's new book, Antique Piano & Other Sour Notes, is wholly original. Glad you chimed in, Barbara.
      Maybe we should start an April Break the Rules Month thing... Only I'm not a movement type.
      And come to think of it, I'm not a great rule-breaker, either. Innocence was a more organic reason for my early difference.

  5. You always make me think, Mirka. I understand exactly what you are saying--as we "age" as writers, some of the "freshness" wears away. I think it is wonderful that you looked back on an early work and saw something beautiful! = )

  6. I think there's a lot to be said for just throwing yourself into it without knowing all the rules, finding your own voice, so to speak and then learning the tricks of the trade. Glad to hear this. I'm still working on one of the first ones I did, not that long ago, for a class I'm taking and wile I'm changing a lot, there's still some of the original that I like.

  7. I usually end up breaking a bunch of rules even when I don't realize I'm doing it and didn't plan to. I'm possibly incurable. However, I have to say that most of my writing from back when I knew nothing just plain reeks. Frankly, I was too much under the influence of symbolism and English profs.

  8. Sometimes when I read back on my earlier stories, I cringe at the writing but am also quite proud of some of the ideas I had. The thing I remember most about The Waste Land is the chapter on thunder: that all good things are revived after the thunderstorm.

    April isn't my cruellest month (I do feel like removing one 'l' from that word), it's one of my busiest. I tend to get stuck dry in February instead.

  9. I'm at a point in my writing career where I'm trying to find some of that original spark again, working on writing something true to myself and rules be damned. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Mirka. Helps to keep me on my path.

  10. Another thoughtful post. Your coming upon your old story reminded me of when L. M. Montgomery pulled Anne of Green Gables out of an old hat box and decided it wasn't so bad, after all. As I once mentioned in a blog post I did about her, lucky for us she rescued that story.

  11. That cartoon makes me laugh! I, too, shudder at my early manuscripts; I can't bear to delete them, though. Even our earliest attempts can teach. I wrote a truly awful talking vegetable story that just makes me laugh now. But I remember writing with such confidence! It was a winner, I thought. I could use some of that fearlessness now. Maybe I would take MORE risks with my writing, instead of adhering to all of those 'rules' that I've learned in the last 10 years. Sometimes we just need to recalibrate, and April seems to be as good a month as any to reflect and shed as you mentioned. Hope you find your way in May, Mirka.