Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Breaking Out of the Writing Box

As  a writer, I'm well aware some people will like it and some people won't. There's a part of me that wants everyone to like everything I write no matter how unreasonable I know that desire to be... I work hard to write words that will speak to my readers and enrich their lives in some way, however large or small.

I often reign in my writing so as to not break some rule or the other, but particularly the "rule" that the prose in fiction shouldn't be noticeable. Without even realizing it, I've let this "rule" stifle my writing progress for far too long trying to fit the idea of writing commercially. I have an unfinished novel, a finished but unedited novel, a nonfiction book about gratitude, and a collection of short stories that are all suffering because I have let this notion that writer's prose shouldn't be noticeable when the reader reads control me. I fear that if I write the way my heart and soul tell me to write, people will accuse me of trying to show off even though that's never my intention when I put words together. I simply enjoy putting together words in creative and inventive ways.

What I've come to realize though is that the more we write with commercialization in mind, the more interchangeable our work is. When I read a book that is so devoid of the author's voice I have to check the front cover to see who wrote the book, I feel cheated. Please understand I'm not laying the blame solely on authors here. Our publishing industry has trained us all to write alike, to follow the rules, to not tackle subjects that make readers uncomfortable or to tackle them in a way that doesn't challenge people's beliefs, to create stereotypical characters, and to write to a formula they know how to sell. This attitude has become ingrained in the psyche of many of us. We have to dig it out and crush it under our heels.

When I come across a book that breaks those molds, I remember why I love reading.

I've lost a lot of my zeal for reading over the past several years as I read more and more books that sounded just like the last book I read. I've read series in which I can't tell you which book is which because they all read the same. I've read books where one author could have have been interchanged with another, and I wouldn't have known the difference. I've read books that have clearly been labeled with a misleading genre tag that is a blatant attempt to corner a popular genre market. I've read books that follow a formula so strictly I know exactly what is going to happen by the time I reach page three and read on only to see if I'm right. Usually, I am, for the most part. I've become bored by books that fit so easily into one formula or the other.

I've grown weary of authors policing and criticizing other authors for their choices regarding writing, publishing, and/or publicity efforts. Everyone hates something other people do and everyone does something other people hate. It's a never ending battle that keeps writers from finding their own voice, from exploring their own unique writing style, from pursuing that which sets their work apart from everyone else. (Yes, for all you haters of the word unique, I said unique, and I meant it. I'm not one bit sorry.)

Recently, I saw an argument among writers about the "rules" for writing, and I sighed. I've read this argument far too many times, and the one thing I know about it is that it never changes. When I read these arguments that writers should always use proper grammar in every single sentence they write, I can't help but roll my eyes... Don't misunderstand me, I'm a fan of using proper grammar, but can you imagine how stilted a book would read if writers truly followed that rule? Because if you look at the letter of the rule and not the spirit of the rule that means even conversation would need to be written in proper grammar meaning the characters would end up mostly indistinguishable during conversation. I don't know about you, but my life is populated with people who rarely, if ever, use proper grammar... I know I'm guilty of often using improper grammar in conversation.

And, then there's the whole adverb rule... sighs... Dare I say it? I'm probably about to lose my place at the writers' table. Sometimes you need an adverb. Okay, writing police, there you go. I said it. Not only that I put it in writing. Sometimes you need an adverb or even two. See there's this other rule about avoiding wordiness... Yeah, sometimes an adverb serves that purpose. I have never, ever read a book that was completely adverb free, even those who argue most stridently against adverbs use them, often even in their arguments against adverbs. I agree that overuse of adverbs is lazy writing, but a well placed adverb can ratchet up tension while eliminating wordiness. All words exist for a reason, even the widely maligned adverb.

And, don't even get me started on the whole use of the word said or its lovely siblings and cousins... Again, sometimes necessary and sometimes not... It's a judgment call. Use your best judgment.

And  then there's the whole cliche thing, which I admit is a pet peeve for me, but let's face it there are areas where people communicate in cliches as much as, perhaps more than, in any other way. So there are even times when a writer must use a cliche or two, as much as I hate to admit it...

I've come to believe that if we listen to all the rules someone else has set in place, we would never write a single word. How could we? Depending on the source you read, everything is acceptable and everything is unacceptable...

Recently, while reading Auburn McCanta's lyrical and haunting All the Dancing Birds , I felt a shift in my thinking. I stopped approximately one-third of the way through the book to contact Auburn to thank her for reminding me to write the way I want to write and let my readers judge my work instead of worrying about breaking a bunch of rules I had no say in setting. McCanta used language to her advantage in the writing of her book in a way I rarely see these days. If you want to see more about my reaction to All the Dancing Birds, see my review of it on Reviews with TLC.

The allure of finding an agent, a publisher, and someone to lock in me a little writing box never appealed to me, but I tried to push myself into that box even as every instinct fought it. My writing suffered because I was trying to be something I'm not. 

I'm done trying to fit into the mold of what anyone else tells me a writer should write.

I find it easier to write without worrying about the "rules" when writing poetry... Fiction on the other hand is a whole other book... 

Maybe I'll never have the success of some authors, but at least at the end of the day, I'll be able to say I stayed true to myself, my voice, and the stories my characters want me to tell.

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