It has taken me my entire lifetime to actually call myself a writer. Everyone else in my life who has ever read anything I wrote said that I was an amazing writer and that I should write for a living. Well easier said than done everyone. You see, this writing thing comes pretty easy to me – as long as I have some sort of feeling on the matter and something to write about. I guess I have waited so long to put my writing ‘out there’ because I have always felt that people would not care about what I cared about. I think I am a decent writer sometimes, and know that I am really good at research papers and term papers and any other paper you need written. That is where I found success in higher education. Graduate school is highly dependent on being able to write and not test taking. I suck at taking tests. Give me an essay question and I will nail it – fill in the blank and my brain can’t seem to retrieve the information.
I have to thank my Mom for my writing ability. She was a good writer too – but it wasn’t her writing that inspired or taught me; it was her love of reading and sharing that love with me that made the difference. My Mom – a single parent with two kids; working two jobs – spent the time to teach me to read early. When I entered kindergarten, I was reading at about a 3rd grade level. My reading skills were always above my peers and throughout my entire life I have been a voracious reader and therefore had an excellent vocabulary. I also learned grammar from reading – which is why my grammar sucks (selective memory). You see, I never paid attention in English classes; actually I just never went to class. Or when I did attend, I had my nose in a book rather than listening to sentence structure and punctuation rules. I read my way through high school and forgot to do things like attend classes or do homework.
I look at my writing the way Picasso may have looked at his art; people around him at the time must have said to him, “Dude! You aren’t following the rules! No one is going to take you seriously!” I am not sure what he told those who wanted him to follow the rules, but I am sure it is expressed in his art one way or another. A giant “f@#k you” to tradition and the rules; he created for the sake of creation. Unlike painters though – there are some rules writers need to follow or else your writing will lack character. It will be without a voice, and it will confuse readers rather than inspire them.
H.P. Lovecraft was a fantasy/science fiction writer in the early 1900’s. He wrote a guide titled “Literary Composition” for the United Amateur Press Association, and in it he offers this advice to aspiring writers:
No aspiring author should content himself with a mere acquisition of technical rules. … All attempts at gaining literary polish must begin with judicious reading, and the learner must never cease to hold this phase uppermost. In many cases, the usage of good authors will be found a more effective guide than any amount of precept. A page of Addison or of Irving will teach more of style than a whole manual of rules, whilst a story of Poe’s will impress upon the mind a more vivid notion of powerful and correct description and narration than will ten dry chapters of a bulky textbook.
I love him for saying this. Love. When a successful author tells you to go ahead and ditch the textbooks, and learn instead from reading other writers who inspire you – well, he is my literary hero.
Also, your reading doesn’t have to be the classics, or the King James Bible (H.P. Lovecraft recommends the KJV Bible in his guide), it should be something that you read with ease, enjoy, and relate to. My favorite authors are those that develop rich characters, descriptive storytelling, and challenge you to ‘lose’ yourself and the world around you. I have always read to escape the ‘real world’ and my therapist said “at least you found a healthy way to ‘lose’ yourself.” I guess I could have been a ‘cutter’ but instead I read. A lot. Instead of scars, I have words, and worlds, and friends that authors have created for me.
For instance, I love Anne Rice and to take one of her more well known characters – Lestat (I REALLY hated that they had Tom Cruise play him in the “Interview with a Vampire” movie). Anyway- Lestat and I have a lot in common. I relate to him. I don’t read those books because I am into vampires, I read Anne Rice because I know exactly what New Orleans looks like even though I have never been there; I can smell the magnolias that grow along the fences of the houses on Garden Street. I know Lestat so well now, that I know what he is going to do before he does it (we think a lot alike). The vampire part is the premise or the ‘hook’ but the real story for me lies in the details. I love Anne Rice and her details. I have a long list of authors that I read and re-read because I love the stories and the way they create a new world through details – not because I love the mechanics of their writing.
No matter what your passion is, I guess the lesson here is to follow it. Don’t let rules and tradition dictate your creativity. The greatest minds of our planet are those who have gone against the rules and created for the sake of creation. If you are a writer – this is why we have editors. We may hate them sometimes – but I am content to have someone else follow the rules for me (as long as they don’t kill my story in the process).
Rules and structure have their place, as does tradition but don’t let those things deter you from trying. Allow your creativity to dictate what and how you write and work on the rules later.