Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Suggestions are NOT Commandments

Writers and Artists—Burn those “shoulds”

I was having a most rewarding talk with a multi-published and lauded writer, and we found that, from my modest perch and his lofty one, we came to see many of the writerly edicts as, at best, helpful suggestions. Unfortunately some of these suggestions are taught as indispensable commadments in creative writing classes, and repeated in interviews by respected creatives.

Here is a summary of a few of these suggestions, with a suggestion from me that if something is helpful to you, keep and cherish it. But please, PLEASE— don’t parcel it out as a commandment. We already have ten official ones, and many more unofficial ones, taught at our parents’ knees.
1. WRITE EVERY DAY. It is helpful for many, but in no way a measure of dedication or a predictor of good work.

2. READ A LOT OF SIMILAR BOOKS TO THE GENRE YOU ARE WRITING. I do the opposite, especially while working on a first draft. I don’t want “voice seepage” or derivative plotting. But some find that reading a lot of similar books revved their engines. Either is fine.

3. NEVER GIVE UP. You’re welcome to give up. Many times. As often as you need to.

4. NEVER ASSUME YOUR WORK WILL BE THE EXCEPTION THAT ALLOWS YOU TO BREAK “THE RULES.” This is true, and I don’t suggest anyone be presumptive of anything. But if we didn’t have rule-benders we would never break new ground, either.

5. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND YOUR WORK. That sounds nice and it is empowering. But I believe in something bigger, and pray that I do the best work I can. Sometimes it isn’t all that, y’know. If you believe in yourself that’s all right also.

6. IGNORE THIS BLOG POST AND OTHER CURMUDGEONLY ONE LIKE IT. This, I’m afraid, I wholeheartedly agree with. Be your own boss.


Vijaya said...

Hah! When I give a suggestion, it sounds like a command. I tell my students to steal 15 min a day to write ... anything. I think it has helped many to go on to develop even better writing habits than I have :)

I love best what Somerset Maugham wrote: There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Refreshing reminder! Some of the great classics were written before there were rules. How did those writers ever get their books written without rules? :-)

Mirka Breen said...

"Somerset Maugham wrote: There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

^Worth repeating :)

Kelly Hashway said...

Rules can be good reminders but writers should never let rules inhibit them. Of course that doesn't mean you should aim to break them all either. ;)

Unknown said...

I love this, Mirka. And exactly what I needed to hear today. Thanks, as always, for your wisdom!

Anonymous said...

When I started writing seriously I devoured "rule" books and they all seemed to contradict each other and finally had to make choices. I used what I personally felt was right and tossed the rest. Love the Somerset Maugham quote!

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Haha, these are great! I especially like #3 as I have given up many times on one thing (writing) to pursue something better (raising my children) when I couldn't manage both at once.

BB said...

Some very sage advice on this list!! If I ever get my book started I'll refer back to it..lol

janlcoates said...

One thing that bugs me when I'm reading is that I can't forget the writing "rules," and I'm bothered when I see that the author has "broken" them, which often does seem to affect my enjoyment of the book.

Mirka K said...

I agree with Catherine. When I started writing, I read so many books about writers and writing. Some of it stayed with me, but I can't tell you what those points are. The suggestions that became the habits I developed simply are part of me now. But they, too, change over time.

Evelyn said...

Excellent post, Mirka. And I agree with you, Jan. Before I learned so much about what "good" writing is, I used to be able to enjoy books more than I do now. It's hard to turn off my inner critiquer.