I’m going to take a tiny break from my poking around the NaNoWriMo forums, and unburden my mind on something.
I spend an awful lot of time writing about writing when I only have one book out, don’t I?
Seems strange, especially to me.
Thing is, Tolkien wrote a bit about writing and he only ever released two books (Lord of the Rings, for those who don’t know, was only a trilogy due to paper shortages). I certainly don’t believe I’m half the author that Tolkien was, nor do I disregard his academic writing … but his fiction is only two works. Silmirilion, and others are unfinished and posthumous publications.
Thing is, a person who writes can know a lot about writing without being published. If this were not true there would not be writer discussions everywhere on the internet, and before that on Usenet, and before that on Fidonet, and before that on select BBSes, and before that in various paper newsletters or coffee shoppe/library based clubs. No, a person can have an hundred titles published and not know anything about writing, and a person can have nothing published and know everything. It’s like saying someone with a degree in something is more knowledgeable than someone without one — not always true, the difference is that one met certain criterion in a university, the other just spent a lot of time in careful study.
I don’t propose to know all about writing. I certainly would never claim to, on purpose, write literary works — if for no other reason than my outright distaste for every single example of such that I’ve ever encountered.
The thing is, we all find something that works for us — we share that for those who it might save some grief and pain. Somewhere out there is another writer wired a bit like myself who is staring, tears in her/his eyes, struggling to compose a tale upon the cold, lifeless screen of a computer. Sweety, turn off the machine, grab some ink and paper, give that a try. Hurray, another story rescued!
Also, one cannot write without reading. This is stated time and again. Someone had to be the first writer, someone had to be the first blacksmith, so I suppose it’s not quite true — someone can work it out from nothing but it’s going to be pretty unlikely. Even our friend Mr First Blacksmith, he probably knew something about making bronze, and Mr First Bronzesmith learnt something from Granddaddy Copper or Tin-smith, both of whom learnt all they needed from Ugh Goldsmith who figured out the shiny yellow rocks look neat if you smash them with some dull gray rocks, and goes all runny if you get it near that neat fire thing his cousin Og No Eyebrows discovered last week. So, I say, you must read. The first novelists read poetry. What did the first poets read? I honestly don’t know, it’s not an area of history that ever much intrigued me, but I would guess that they listened to story tellers who recited a kind of epic poetry. From this you learn techniques (a hotter fire makes these funny rocks sweat out grey shiny stuff), you learn methodology (no, no, hit the metal, son, not your thumb, works better — trust me). Most importantly you learn what inspires you (what? I can’t turn everything into a smithing analogy)!
If you read enough, and then write enough, you discover these details (oh! hit the metal with a hammer! Who knew!?) which some will call rules of writing and others rules of thumb. I provide rules of thumb. For certain kinds of fiction it’s important to follow strict structures, to only put that she wore green shoes if it’s vital to some later or immediate aspect of the story (at the very least it has to be symbolic). For others, this isn’t so important.
This is why I tend to say, do it or not, it’s up to you and the necessities of your story. Because that is the key: It’s. Your. Story.
Believe me, I haven’t read all there is to read, but I’ve read enough to know that one thing is Truth: in the course of human history, there is no truly new idea in how to write. Someone will have tried something like it somewhere. And in this age, someone will have published it at some point and in some place.
As I said: Do the characters eat? I don’t know, dear, do they? Do the characters have sex? Is it that kind of story? Fade to black or graphic detail? Is it that kind of story? Do I describe their clothes? Does the narrator notice the clothes, or care?
I cannot stress enough, that there are no literary police who will charge you with being in violation of code 43-b of the Rules of Writing if you don’t do what some literature professor or creative writing instructor told you to then confiscate your literary license. TELLS, yes, sort of, it’s called marks and they tend to be bad if you don’t follow the instructor’s instructions — but that’s a whole other matter. Believe me, Jo Rowling, Stephen King, J R R Tolkien, Robert Heinlein, Charles Dickens, A A Milne, Frank L Baum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, E E “Doc” Smith, Arthur C Clarke, William Shakespeare, Voltaire, Geoffrey Chaucer … and so many more, names we know, names we love, names we cherish, names that will live on or have already long endured … they broke The Rules, or at least some rules. Other rules they followed, some rules weren’t rules yet, some rules aren’t rules any more.
And there’s another point. It’s so hard to agree on these rules that it’s possible to have these discussions. If Rules for writing truly existed, beyond those needed to codify how one communicates via the strange glyphs upon a page or screen, then there would be no question and no discussion: one would become a writer the way one becomes a plumber, or an accountant.
Time and again: Art has no rules, no boundaries. Art is imagination, and creativity. We say ‘think outside the box’ when we want someone to be creative — we tell them to step beyond the bounds of laws, rules, status quo, etc. In our imaginations, men walk upon the moon, upon alien worlds; in our imaginations we explore the depths of the sea and soar among the clouds; in our imaginations we can send a picture around the world in the blink of an eye; in our imaginations we can converse with cats and have tea with dormice. Some of these things have, since, become reality — but first they were imagined, and first they were the stuff of fiction, first they were novels or epic legends, dreams of eccentric geniuses.
It can never be stressed enough, and I am not alone, so many of the artists we all adore so often stress the same advice: do not shackle your dreams. Do not stifle your story with boundaries and Rules. Reserve “should” only in name of advice, “Should Veronica wear high heels with that kind of dress, do you think?” If you can dream it, write it, because if you can dream it you can inspire that dream in others — and that’s what it’s all about really, sharing our dreams and imaginings so that others can enjoy the same journey we did.