Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Confused Fledgling Writer

Confused: unable to think or reason clearly.

Whenever I have begun a new undertaking, I’ve spent time and effort researching and learning as much as possible about the topic. For the first ten years of my teaching career I read innumerable books, took grad classes, and attended workshops to make me the best teacher I could be. While I still do some of the aforementioned activities, much of my teaching ability is now at a cellular level, deep within me. When I first took up gardening I researched and read everything I could get my hands on. Traveling to a new place? There aren’t enough guidebooks and websites to satisfy my need to know everything about the locale before I arrive. My latest undertaking is no different. As I begin my writing avocation I’m reading numerous books on the craft. Some, like Jerry Cleaver’s Immediate Fiction, have become my bible. Others are there as excellent references. Still others are being slowly read and digested. I’ve attended workshops, subscribed to Writer’s Digest, joined a national writers organization. I recognize and affirm my need to improve my craft. But as I read and learn more, I discover that not everyone agrees on the rules. This lack of agreement is confusing this fledgling writer. And then this morning I read something that made me to throw my hands in the air in exasperation.

Every Saturday morning I look forward to reading a favorite column on the craft of writing: Word Craft in the Review section of The Wall Street Journal. I’m not a WSJ reader, but one Saturday a few months ago I happened upon it, and now I never miss it. Written by a different author each week, it addresses topics from using setting as character, to market trends, to genre writing. Today, the novelist Lisa Lutz begins her column: The first rule of writing is that there are no rules. This is enough to make a fledgling writer’s brain implode. She goes on to say that if there is a rule, it is “don’t bore your audience.” That seems like all around good advice. I’m sure Jerry Cleaver would agree with that. I can certainly live with that one.

So I look at my bookshelves of books on writing. Rules, or no rules? I’m a believer in the old adage ‘don’t break the rules until you know the rules.’ Lisa Lutz knows the rules. I’m going to continue learning the rules, applying the rules, and working the rules until they are in me at a cellular level. Then I might begin to break them.

But in the meantime, I will try to remember to never bore my audience.