I have recently been conducting a surreptitious and totally unscientific survey among writers. Unbeknownst to them, I have been picking their well-oiled brains for their opinions on writing. You see, I have been having a dry-spell lately, unable to finish something for fear I shall get it wrong. Internal versus External conflict. Point of view. Quotations. Split infinitives. You name it and I have looked at it with fear. Have I done it wrong? Should I change this point of view right now or would it be construed as head-hopping? There are so many rules and regulations about writing that I have completely lost sight of the main theme – writing.
So, I began sneaking amidst my friends and confidants, asking innocuous questions about their styles and how they write. They answer me truthfully and their opinions have, remarkably, coincided with mine. The more we learn the more fear we have of putting the words to paper.
When I was just writing for myself, I had no clue about conflict and head hopping or characterization. I just wrote what made me happy. I had a story to tell and I simply wrote it. Albeit, now, when I look back at those stories, I cringe at some of the things I did. Because, you see, I am now educated in the formula of writing. Yes, the Formula.
I have attended conferences, gone to lectures, read books on writing romances – all in an effort to better my ability and to achieve the Holy Grail of writing: PUBLICATION. I have taken scrupulous notes on conflict and the dos and don’ts of how your character should behave, filing the information away for future editing on my work. What I didn’t realize when I was doing this was that I was hamstringing myself. As is my fellow blogger, Stephanie, I am a rule person. If there is a rule, it is there for a reason and one should never break the rule! I cannot consciously disregard a rule or I will fall apart; the order of the Universe will crumble and I will be left with Chaos.
The rules of writing romance dictate a formula. Every one of us has picked up books of well-known authors, only to be dismayed that, even though this is a brand-new book, the formula of the hero and the heroine are the same as his/her last fifteen books! I am not just saying this is true of the romance genre because I have seen it in others genres as well – horror, suspense, paranormals. Every one of them seems to have attended the same conferences on writing. They have found a formula that works and then have merrily gone about writing it, again and again.
Now, you may say that this is the green-eyed monster talking. She hasn’t been published and these writers have. I agree. But, as a reader, I would like for these very good writers to go back to what they did originally, before they began speaking at lectures and telling us about the proper way to write – write from your heart and quit trying to pigeon-hole your characters and plots to fit the Formula!
I digress. My problem is the same as every one I have spoken to – I have been second-guessing myself. Should I do this; should I do that; or should I just quit and go back to crocheting? No, I cannot quit because I have a lot of stories rolling around in my head and I want to share them, even if no one else wants me to (see I have ended a sentence with a preposition – a definite rule breaking – shudder). Every one of you writers with whom I have spoken, and this is my very unscientific survey, has admitted to me that the more you learn, the harder it is to write. So what is the answer?
I don’t know. What I do know is that there are reasons for those rules – editors and publishers want to sell their books. WE want to sell our books. The rules are there because they give a parameter for what books will sell and what books should be in a dumpster. The rules give us a starting point and from there we should adjust our writing accordingly. Yes, follow the rules or you won’t get published. No one wants to read a harum-scarum book that jumps all over the place. The rules will fix that. And I agree, I like a well-ordered book, just not the same one, over and over. I think sometimes you have to bend the rules, a bit. Step out of the traces and write something a little different or maybe a lot different.
So, what is the point of all this? I still could not write, frozen with fear over doing the wrong thing. I kept asking people about it. Was I rebelling (as I have been known to do) over what I considered arbitrary rules or was I just stuck? Then…I was talking to one of my writer-friends about the problem of too-much knowledge and she agreed, as I have previously stated everyone does, we worry too much about the rules. BUT, she had an answer, given to her by one of our premier writers, Linda Winstead Jones. Linda said, which I found remarkably insightful and painfully obvious once I heard it: Just sit down and write a short story; forget the rules; and forget everything, simply write it. Then look it over and see – you can write without thinking about the Rules. The Rules are there to help you, not hurt you to the point of writer’s block. Wonderful and true!
I did just that. I wrote a short story, not in the romance genre, but in another (how traitorous of me!) and entered it in a contest. The winners will not be named for months and I do not hold out any hope of winning. However, I have already won – I wrote something without thinking! I wrote for pleasure and, if I do say so myself, it turned out pretty good. The dam, I hope, has burst and maybe now I can get back to writing an actual book!
Who needs that?
I’m never going to England.
To continue my survey: What do you think about the Rules? Does trying to follow every little rule prevent you from writing or does it give you comfort and a blueprint to adhere to? Tell me your stories of writer’s block and how you overcame it. Or, if you are not a writer, tell me your thoughts about all the formulaic books out there on the market – Do you read the blurb on the back cover, realize it’s the same story in a different setting and put the book down? Or do you buy the book because you just simply love the author?