Writing…I wanted to say something about writing.
I never worried about it. I picked up a pen, I sat down at the keys and I wrote. I ate, I slept, I did what I needed to do or what needed doing and I wrote, until I was done writing.
At thirty-five years old I had written so much that I did not question myself about it, my writing, I knew that I could write and that confidence showed. I knew what I was doing and felt and thought and believed that I did. Anyone could say whatever they wanted to say about most anything but I knew that I could write.
It is high praise when one of your peers whom you respect, whose ability you respect, says that you can write, and as much as I might have wanted to hear that at times, the fact was that I didn’t need to be told, I knew that I could.
I hadn’t read volumes on literary style, I hadn’t been taught how to write like anyone else and more importantly, I hadn’t been untaught how to write like me. I learned the basic rules of English and Grammar and not unlike the basic math skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, they served me well. I had learned those basic rules of English and composition well enough to feel comfortable enough to begin to sometimes break them. My extensive vocabulary was at my fingertips and ever ready on the tip of my tongue, I was one of those people for whom it had become natural to use so-called ten-dollar words in my regular conversation, not as a matter of any sort of pretense but because that is who I was and had become after years of attentiveness to words. I wrote all first drafts long hand and as a result, my own knowledge stayed fresh and present, without having to rely on spell check or Word, for sentence structure or correction, I rarely misspelled words. My writing was more thorough, my prose more fluid and natural.
A few years ago when I decided to finally pursue my writing as an actual career, I became scared. I started listening to all of the “advice” out there about “how” to do what I was already really good at doing, writing really well and exactly like, me. I became overly concerned with genre and whether or not I was writing in or out of my comfort zone and this set of rules and that set of rules and what so and so said about this, that, or the other thing. I became worried over writing sex scenes and the use of the f-word, and then any other word, and what would whoever think of it and then, finally, of me. Was I being too unladylike? Was whatever it was too uptight, too professional, too unprofessional, what would my grandmother think of it, or have thought of it, or whoever? Would people get the wrong idea about me? Since when I do care? Well, I don’t, didn’t, really want to deal with it, and I’ve been writing business letters since grade school but now that isn’t good enough either and do it this way and that way and the other way… Until I became so pent-up and so repressed about it all, so afraid of screwing up, ( according to whose idea of screwing up?) that the work itself became stifled.
More than once I fell into ( have fallen into) the trap of trying to explain, explain, explain what it is that I do as a writer and the difference between what I write and who I am and the fiction of it all verses the reality of me as a person and so many other things that I have heard other writers talk about too.
All of that nonsense took up a lot of time. I won’t say that I did not learn anything from it but the bottom line was a wake-up moment that goes something like this… Wait a minute, what am I doing? I know a how to do this, I know how to write.
And that is the one thing that no writer can ever afford to forget or lose, their unabashed belief in their own ability to write.
So there’s my #1 writer rule,
1. Believe in yourself as a writer, i.e., I know can write.
2. Use everything.
I have forty-five years of vast personal knowledge on a great number of subjects that many, in other fields, would deem trivial but as a writer, is a golden wellspring from which I must never be afraid to draw. Do you know noir? Do you understand horror? Can you be subtle? Can you be bold? Blunt? You have to use all of it, everything you have, everything you know about pull top beer cans and NASA’s future plans to travel to Mars. Don’t stop yourself from using something because it’s out of a certain genre or you think it is or maybe no one has heard that song in forty years and or you’re worried that people will think you’re old or uncool or out of touch with the present because if that is the song that is playing on the radio everywhere a character goes in the story then it is. You have to use everything and not worry about what other people are going to think of it or make of it or try to make of it, to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, you’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t but if you’re coming from a genuine place of “being yourself” chances are it will work itself out.
What if Quentin Tarantino hadn’t used everything he had for “Pulp Fiction”? Then no Statler Brother’s singing “Flowers on the Wall”, or Dick Dale’s “Misirlou”, that no one had heard or listened to in how long? But it worked because that musical knowledge was natural to him. ( Not to mention when was the last time that anyone had done The Twist?)
So when they say that something is “dated”, don’t take it too much to heart. Look at whatever it is, sure, but things tend to be cyclical, everything old is new again.
I haven’t used everything in so long now, my chest practically hurts from it, holding myself back as a writer and possibly, as a person. Restraint? Only as part of the knowledge that you have to use everything, including restraint.
One of the best pieces of personal advice that I’ve ever received is, Always keep something for yourself. This is especially important if you’re working in a situation where you “give” a lot to the “public” in some way. People can get to where they think they have a right to you or “everything.” Keep something for you.
Trends come and go, that is what makes them trends.
“- how fortunate are you and i whose home is timelessness, we
who have wandered down from fragrant mountains of eternal now.” – e.e.cummings
3. “There are only three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” -W. Somerset Maugham
This is the only information about writing a novel that has ultimately done me any good at all other than if you really believe in the story, these two simple words, DON’T QUIT. In the midst of trying to figure out how to write a novel I’ve written three of them. Don’t quit.
4. Publishing, if I had those answers I’d have three published novels. 4. Never stop learning. ( I can write but I don’t know everything. Yeah. Okay.)
5. There are no rules for writing a poem. If you want to write a particular kind of poem well then, yes, there are rules but otherwise, there are no rules for writing a poem. Poetry is the art of the commoner, and good poetry even more so, do not let anyone pollute it for you with over education or intellectualization. ( Don’t be a afraid to make up a word now and then.)
6. Is this a story that I am proud of?
Set your own standards. Keep your own standards. Have standards. I wish I had asked myself that question a little sooner in all of my thrashing about but it is all learning and I’ll keep that knowledge.
7. Set your own goals.
What everyone else is doing? That’s good for them. What are you doing? “Getting your head right” is completely valid, so is cleaning out files and scrubbing the tub because that is sometimes where the next story begins. Have your own yardstick for success, otherwise the proverbial “they” will beat you to death with theirs.
8. Write about whatever you want to write about. Write with complete abandon.
9. Watch your tense.
I realize now that that particular piece of advice was the beginning of my undoing for a while, a few years of mess, because I started paying way too much attention to all the things that had come naturally too me as a writer prior to having heard it, things that I would have caught on the edit had I simply kept writing and trusted myself. It isn’t bad advice, in fact I probably learned more from than one piece of advice than any other, one way or another because it reminded me, or taught me, to look at things differently, the beginning of a sentence versus the end of the sentence, had, have, were, was, am, is, will be, should have, would, etc. It also taught quite a lot about perspective in terms of changing narrative perspectives, something I never would have attempted had I not temporarily become enthralled in ( obsessed with) ideas about time within a story. Past, present, future. When. And how does that work into the story. I am, and will, ultimately continue to become a better writer because of it, I think…
10. If you’re going to get into making lists, go for nice, even number sets. A top ten is always good, a top five works too.
11. “This one goes to eleven.” Your rules for your writing will, and should be, your own.
There is no perfect, only your idea of it and what is perfect for you. There is no fearless. You will never be better than anyone else, there is no “the best,” there is only the best that you are capable of, and that may vary from one day to the next. You either write or you don’t. It is about being brave about a love of words.
proof read. edit. etc. Edit again, you probably missed something. I re-edit things all the time.
Oh, and, possibly the most important thing that I’ve learned about writing, back up your work files. I’m on my third computer in five years. Backing up my writing files is a must.