Break the Rules, Have Some Fun … and maybe get some terrific writing done, too

If you’ve been reading, you may know that I’ve been struggling with the last WIP, and then with the new one I started, and it ended up being largely because I was hemming myself in too much with too many self-imposed rules and requirements. This is probably because I’m a bit of a control-freak, and quite frankly, I like rules: I think that for the most part, they help us organize our lives, our society, and stop things – and people – from running amok.

That said, while I have worked as a freelance editor, I like to break rules grammatically. Sentence fragment, anyone? So long as I know I’m breaking the rule – and doing it intentionally and stylistically – I figure it’s okay. And it’s only recently that I’ve decided that the same can be said for writing altogether. While we may like to keep rules in the back of our minds, it doesn’t mean we always have to follow them.

Case in point: my latest WIP. I’d been trying to force myself to write it third-person, and switch between two POVs. But, all I was ending up with was something stiffer and less friendly than I wanted it – and it certainly wasn’t going to have any of the humor and sarcasm I wanted. So, after my blog post about my rules and expectations, I went back to writing and did it exactly as I wanted … in first person, single narrator, very sarcastic, and certainly a “character” of her own. Yes, this does limit my ability to convey my hero’s perspective on things, which will make me have to work harder showing it through his actions, body language, dialogue, etc, but you know what it did accomplish?

It made writing FUN again.

By just doing exactly what my gut wanted to do from the start, from diving in a bit wildly and just going for it – knowing full well I may have to rewrite it all at some point in the future in a different perspective, heavy editing, etc, etc – I started writing anyway. And it was fabulous. I heard the rules in my head, but I ignored them, speeding ahead with almost 7000 words in one day, which is something I haven’t been able to accomplish in a long time, especially considering my reduced working hours.

Thus, my beloved rules were holding me back instead of helping me. Which made me realize that when it comes to rules – particularly the self-imposed kind – it’s worth remembering and reviewing them every so often, and deciding if they’re still worth keeping, or if maybe they should be tossed out entirely. For writing, I want to continue to improve and grow, and I can’t so that if I stagnate and strangle myself. So, now I’ve found a new way to play.

Thus: remember to break some rules. No, in case there are any kind of legal ramifications, I am not suggesting you do anything illegal, but just break a few rules – the unwritten kind, especially the self-imposed kind that you’ve somehow internalized, but which might be a bit obsolete, or might not be what you need anymore. How do you do it?

  • consider the rule, and its purpose – especially things like grammar. Can you say what you want with the rule? How would breaking it benefit you? If you understand the rule – like using complete sentences rather than fragments – consider using the fragments when it can be helpful to assist with style, characterization, etc.
  • character perspective / POV (point of view) – you should at least know what the conventions are for your chosen genre / specialty, which means you know what to expect when it comes to rewriting. I know my genre generally prefers third person deep POV, which is what I generally write in. BUT, is a story coming to you in first person? Have you ever tried it? What if you’re that writer who is fabulous in first person and you just don’t know it because you’ve never tried? Consider why the convention / rule exists, what you risk by defying it, and what you could possibly gain.
  • experimentation = growth. For me, experimentation is a kind of play, and I like to try something different in every new book, just to keep things interesting and me on my toes. Sometimes it’s what I research, some new branch of science or specific detail which I didn’t know much about, but which becomes central to the WIP. Each time we try to stretch ourselves, it seems to me we can only continue to grow – like a tree up towards the sun.

What about you? How do you feel about rules, and do they help you or hold you back? Have you tried breaking any lately? Come on, break some rules, I dare you – it sure can be a lot of fun. 🙂

The Journey to Publication, Writing

Playing and Making Writing Fun Again

Well, this will probably feel a bit strange, but first, I’m going to send you away from this blog post, because I just read a great post that inspired this one. So, go check out:

Dale Launer’s “Cure Writers Block”

In case you haven’t checked it out already, he talks about where he thinks creativity – and it’s opposite, writer’s block – come from, equating true creativity with “the child” and our negative inner editor with “the parent.” Seriously, check it out. Poke around on the page a bit, since a lot of the other essays are both very well written, and thought-provoking.

Which brings me to my post today: playing and making writing fun again. I recently started a new WIP that’s way out of my comfort zone, is something bizarre and weird, and which may never actually be seen by other eyes than my own. The reason: I needed to. I’ve been pushing myself very hard to continue with books in two different series, and the pressure of continuing to build on this, on over-analyzing what’s working – and what’s not – in all of these books has been completely freezing up my writing. Things aren’t going well, and I can’t quite decide how to fix it.

And this all brings me back to play. When I was studying French, the reason I really enjoyed it was being able to play with the language again, something I’d lost throughout other education and the degree in English Lit; playing with language really doesn’t seem to be encouraged. So how do I remind myself to play?

I think, honestly, it comes to trying to erase all the expectations.Maybe I’ll list them to try and break them down.

    • Writing in deep 3rd person, switching between the characters.  (But wait a minute, if this is just for me, who says that it sells better? Who says it even works better? Why not switch it up, start playing … sure, I’m all the way onto chapter 2 /3, but there’s nothing saying I can’t try something new for today.)

    • Traditional plotting methods, following hero’s journey model. (Again, who says? Does the climax have to be facing death? Where else could it take me?)

    • Following the lines of a well-known storyline. (Okay, this is something I’ve apparently done to  make my life harder, but if my premise is that the original story is all lies and a coverup, than it hardly constrains me, does it?)

    • There’s no market for an “orphan” manuscript like this. (Yeah, so? Is that the purpose of writing it? No. So just keep writing anyway.)

    • This may be unpublishable for a variety of reasons. (Does the purpose of all writing I do have to have the eventual goal of trying to get published? Writing is still writing, isn’t it? And being unpublished, isn’t this the opportunity and ideal time to indulge oneself in play?)

Pardon my very strange self-analysis, but I think I needed a bit of butt-kicking. Is my eventual goal publication? Certainly. So if I write something that may not be an ideal candidate, does that make it useless? Not at all. I’m reminded of this little card I picked up at a writer’s conference that tells the story of two fictional beginner pottery classes.

Class A was told to make one pot and make it the best pot they could, rewriting, reworking, and continuing on the same project for the month of the class. Class B was told to learn to make as many pots as they could during the duration of the class. So who made the best pot?

Class B, of course, because they kept experimenting and learning with each new pot they created, rather than sticking with only their first attempt. The end message? There’s no such thing as wasted writing or effort, and I’d be better off continuing to play and expand my skill by experimenting in each new WIP or exercise than sticking with attempting to revise my first flawed effort.

I don’t know about you, but off to play in the writer’s word-box right now. What about you? Do you have the courage to just play?

Have a great week, and thanks for reading.