Yesterday was one of those days. You know the kind, the ones where you keep trying to do several things at once and none of them are getting done very efficiently and you’re getting frustrated and depressed and wishing it was tomorrow already because today isn’t going your way. If, in looking back at the previous post, I am considering my husband’s routine and comparing mine, I’d say it went wrong at the coffee stage. Too many urgent emails requiring attention (chapter and other business). A couple of phone calls. More emails once the first ones were answered. The worst opening paragraph about Mrs. Dalloway ever in the history of thesis writing–wrote it yesterday, today it sucks. And so many things I need to do that are weighing on my mind like the proverbial sack of bricks.
(But, one good email in which I won a book over on Alison Kent’s site! Yay!)
So, as far as new routines, today not so good. I couldn’t beat the old system very well, though I limited the blogging once the email took over my morning. *sigh*
I don’t have to read those digest emails, I know I don’t, but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t throw things away because I might find a use for it later. Likewise, I can’t delete the digests unread because I might miss something I need to know.
And therein lies the trouble. The conversations are driving me nuts. They also somewhat reflect conversations I’ve had with individuals, which may be why they’re pressing my buttons.
Why oh why does everyone think that the “rules” don’t apply to them? Why do they argue and make statements like, “If such and such doesn’t like the way I do it, then I didn’t want them for my agent/editor/publisher/pal anyway”?
I kid you not, I’ve been privy to conversations that discussed the personal preference for Bookman Antiqua 14 over the old standard Courier New or TNR 12 and how they didn’t think they ought to have to change the font. Me, I think if the editor wants it in Wingdings 20, they’re getting it that way. To hell with what I prefer. (OTOH, Miss Snark says that writers worry about format much more than agents/editors. They just want it readable. Though, over on Anna Genoese’s site, if you send it to her in Arial, she’s sending it back.)
But, I guess what really gets me about the rules conversations is that almost universally, people think the rules don’t apply to them. Oh yes, they see the need for them, the reason romance is, for example, generally 3rd person POV, but they think they are the special case in which it doesn’t apply. They are allowed to write the only 2nd person romance in the history of mankind while the rest of us must follow conventional wisdom. (This isn't the best example, but hey.)
And, by golly, I’m not saying some of them aren’t the exception! But we can’t all be the special case. We can’t all trot out Strunk and White and say, yes but it doesn’t apply to ME because I know HOW to break the rule. Which, inevitably, is what you hear. And can I let you in on a little secret? Most of the people saying it aren’t yet published by a major publisher. Things that make you go hmmmm.
I think it does newbie writers a disservice to tell them they can write the story any old way they want without learning what the rules of grammar or even genre are. Yes, even literary writers have stylistic conventions/rules/whatever you want to call it. How many literary writers do you know that exist in a vacuum? No, they often come from academia or from MFA programs or writers’ workshops. Writing is like piano playing. You don’t just wake up one morning and do it. You have to learn it and practice it.
Writing can be shaped. I admit that the rules can also interfere with a person’s natural writing style, which isn’t a good thing. Perhaps it’s not the rules so much as the timing of the application of them. If a new writer joins a critique group and takes her first chapter and gets told that you can’t headhop and you can’t include the dog’s POV, etc, and then she’s at a standstill because she’s confused and wary and stuck, that’s not good. I think the secret is that first draft isn’t the place to be critical. But that’s another one of my peeves.
No, we do not all want to sound alike and I’m not advocating we do. Slavish devotion to ANY rule is probably a bad thing. But, by golly, if Strunk and White is good enough for Stephen King, it’s good enough for me.
But when is something wrong? When is it NOT okay to write 30 pages of the heroine going about her business before she meets the hero? I believe, btw, that Wendy Wax does this extremely well in Leave it to Cleavage. I’d never argue with her about when the hero shows up on the scene. I also think Nora Roberts writes limited 3rd POV well (aka headhopping) and that a writer like Susan Elizabeth Phillips can write several pages of the heroine telling her backstory to a dog (Ain’t She Sweet). Jenny Crusie writes situational comedy plots that no one else could probably get away with, and Marsha Canham can pack a story with history and still make you read along. (I’m sure we can all think of examples.)
But when is it not okay? Can’t we just admit that not even Mozart was born with the ability to write “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” on day one (or day 1500)? Beethoven wrote the “Ode to Joy” at the end of his life. They studied, they worked hard, they learned the conventions even if they did their own thing. Why should writing be any different?
Okay, so that's my opinion. I'm sure there are folks who disagree. And don't even get me started on people who tell newbie writers that you can't write a chick-lit/historical/romantic suspense because the market is saturated or you have to know SO MUCH to do it well so you might as well not even bother. Grrrr.
yep… I have had this conversation with poets, who only want to write free verse. They think learning the poetry conventions are beneath them. No Sonnets, no villanelles, no structured poetry–it is all beneath them. I quit having that conversation. I agree. If you want to be good, you need to learn how to use your pen.
Word sister. I htink I know the conversation you are talking about and it near made my head explode. But I wasn’t about to say, “Okay, but this is what my copyeditor says…”
Good point, Cyn. I didn’t even think about poetry while I was ranting, but of course it makes sense! Anyone can vomit free verse, but to learn the structures takes time and effort. And I doubt we’d say that learning how to write a villanelle or a sonnet would forever cripple the poet and her muse. Which is what the folks I’m talking about say about fiction. They think that learning conventions means they will lose their freshness or it will cripple their voice. I disagree.
Hey, Diana. The funny thing is, I’d think they’d be more likely to listen to you than to me. But apparently not. It’s amazing how writing is so subjective. We wouldn’t walk into a piano lesson or a skydiving lesson and think we know more than the instructor. But man do we think that way when it comes to writing!
Hear, hear! I so totally agree. Very well said.
Thank you, Caryn. 🙂