Somewhere along the path of discovering who we are as writers, I think we all might fall into the trap of THE WAY. THE WAY is the myth that there is an absolute way to write, to be a writer, to write a novel, to write a poem, to write a play, to write an article, etc…
There isn’t. Now is the time to surrender the fantasy. There is no way.
In other words, THERE IS NO SPOON.
Today, I would like to release you from the myth that YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
If there is no way, there is no right way and there is no wrong way. As a writer, we need to find our own way. And not just look for a path and stay on it once we find it. We need to change the paths every time we pick up a pen, a quill or a keyboard. When we raise a piece of street chalk to write the great Canadian (or American) novel on the sidewalk, we need to approach the project like it’s the first time we wrote down a word. Believing–truly believing–that there is no way (no one way) is allowing yourself to approach every project as a child.
By this I mean…if you painstakingly outlined your last novel project down to the last scene and it worked for you, don’t assume you’re a plotter. There might be a frightened little pantser inside you just waiting to burst from his/her moorings. Allow that writer to break free. NO WAY means you might be a plotter one story and a pantser the next.
How about a list? I don’t think I’ve done one for a while.
Things Writers Should/Shouldn’t Do…and Why You Should Question Lists that Suggest Shoulds and Shouldn’ts
- You SHOULD never write like your favourite author. On one level, I fully understand this one. You shouldn’t ‘steal’ from another writer. But I don’t believe there is harm in emulating our idols. How many times have you read a book and thought, ‘Wow. This is so Kingish (Riceish, Dickensian, Shakespearean, Chabonish, etc).’ People do write like their idols. Our voices are influenced both by life experiences and the works we read and reread and reread. Nobody can write fully as somebody else. If you have a favourite author and you have soaked up all of their works over and over again…there are going to be crumbs of that author in the words that you write. Own it. It’s what influence does.
- For the love of God, don’t make absolute statements like, “I AM A PLOTTER.” As I said up-post, allow this decision to be reached anew with every single project you undergo. You will kill creativity if you forbid yourself to explore your options. It’s the book you want to write that should tell you which way to go…not a directive that some perhaps well-meaning person posted to the internet telling you you had to choose a way and stick to it. This goes for plotting/pantsing and writing with a pen as opposed to a keyboard and the Oxford comma and statements like, “Don’t start a novel with dialogue” and making sure your manuscript is in UK English instead of US English or US English instead of UK English and using two spaces after a period or one space after a period (okay…use ONE space after a period!). This goes for every little knit-picky detail that writers face every time they sit down to write. Hell, you don’t even have to sit down to write these days. That’s another decision you have to make. Stand at a treadmill desk or sit on a conventional chair. Just don’t go telling anyone–especially yourself–that you MUST use a treadmill desk to be a writer. Or that you must NOT use a treadmill desk to be a writer.
- You should NEVER write outside your genre or market! I call bullshit. Believe it or not, I’ve seen this advice. I’ve heard this advice. I actually believed it at one point. I told you we all fall victim to the absolutes found in the world of writing advice. I tried to stop myself from writing YA because I didn’t start with YA. How dare I switch to a different market! Guess what…I broke free. I wrote YA. And it was good.
- You should ALWAYS be on every form of social media in the universe. You should always promote yourself and write blog posts and tweet and Facebook and Youtube and Tumblr and everything else. Really?! These are necessary to every writer? No. No they are not. Sometimes they are even damaging to writers. If you feel you can use social media in a way that it will help you interact with readers and other writers, do so. But if you have nothing to say and you still say a lot, you might just put people off. Don’t be a writer who kills themselves through social media. It’s hard enough to be a writer. You don’t have to burn the bridges that could possibly be out there between you and your potential readers. There is no YOU MUST BE ACTIVE IN SOCIAL MEDIA law. You can be, but you don’t have to be. Less is more. And be careful about dissing other writers. Every writer is on a path. Who are we to question the path of another writer?
- DON’T EVER USE CLICHE. This one gets to me. I have purposely used cliche. Unapologetically. And I will continue to do so as I see fit. If we listened to the no cliche harpies we would have realized by now that every single thing in this universe and the closest three universes in the neighbourhood are ALL CLICHE. Give it a rest. Don’t overburden your work with cliche, but a little cliche goes a long way. You’re the boss of you, not anybody else.
- When writing a novel, NEVER GO OUTSIDE THE ACCEPTED CONSTRUCTS OF WHAT A NOVEL SHOULD LOOK LIKE. Scrap that advice. Totally. Utterly. Completely. Do what you want. Recreate the novel. Write in lists. Write in pictures. Write in footnotes. Write in emails. Write in texts. Explore the boundaries. And once you explore them, push them. Something isn’t right or wrong until it is accepted or rejected—repeatedly. Humans don’t like change just as much as we like change. We’re ornery. When told the world was flat, we listened. Thank God somebody fought that accepted construct. There are some pretty fascinating things going on with novels these days. Embrace the changes. Incorporate them into your own writing. Or—DON’T incorporate them.
- WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. Shut up. I’ll write what I want to write. And you should too.
- You should ALWAYS edit on paper. OR You should ALWAYS edit on screen. OR You should always read your novel from back to front when editing. OR NEVER edit while you write. OR ALWAYS edit while you write. Find a way that works for you. BUT DON’T STICK TO IT. Like writing, editing should be something you explore with each project.
I think that’s enough. I’m not really in the list mood.
FOLLOWING ANY WRITING ADVICE RELIGIOUSLY IS A SURE-FIRE WAY TO CLIP YOUR WINGS.
Guess what, folks. There is NO yellow brick road. It’s a fancy. If you follow a certain path in writing (or in life), the only thing you will find at the end is the end. You will diligently walk the yellow bricks, thinking the world outside those bricks is filled with danger and missteps and wrongness. You will fill yourself with pride for having followed the path with precision. Then, at the end, you will discover that those who jumped off the yellow bricks and walked through the forest and swam across the river and climbed the mountains and forged their own way through OZ still arrived at the same destination as you. They arrived at THE END. But you can bet your bottom dollar they had more fun.
Don’t be afraid. Listen to advice…sure. Read it all. But in the end–when push comes to shove–every single writer (and human being, for that matter) is ALONE. It’s not the destination. It’s the path. The long and winding road. Don’t be rigid. Throw away the advice that doesn’t work for you, and dip into the advice that does. But don’t live in the advice that works. Allow yourself the freedom to change your clothes at will. We are humans. We evolve. We are constantly changing. Be a writer who is fearless enough to always change. Or, stay the same.