How timely, to talk about this. It seems the topic is in the air, with the latest article on Haruki Murakami and how he doesn't give a shit, and the latest blog post by Chuck Wendig on how you'll never get anywhere if you compare yourself to others, and my own thoughts today and yesterday and the day before, after reading a book a day, literally, first THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS by John Boyne, then THE GIRL ON THE FRIDGE by Etgar Keret, and comparing writing styles and scratching my head. And, well, thinking. And what I'm thinking about is this. How none of the writing rules you learn help you write better. Yes, it's beneficial to know the basics of grammar and plotting and expositions and whatever other fancy names literary scholars employ describing all the smart parts of the writing process. Smart as in, things you usually have to look up to know what they mean. I'm the one guilty of this. I still don't know all the proper terms and labels and components. I only recently have learned the difference between a metaphor and a simile and I'm about to start writing my 3rd novel. Pathetic, right? I know. And yet. And yet I didn't feel the needed to know them all, and here is the thing I want to share with you.
Writing rules are there to be broken.
Think about it. Why do we make up rules? To get rid of fear. That's right. If we can hide behind the safety of rules, moreover, if we are being good girls and boys and are writing while adhering to those rules, we feel good. Because we know we're doing the thing right. Nobody will laugh at us and point fingers and call us names. We're safe. See? Fear extinguished. It's the weird bold ones who break the rules and write daring books like THE GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING by Eimear McBride. It took her over a decade to get the publishers to finally notice her story and commit to it. It was so out there, nobody dared. Why? Fear again. We are ruled by it, all of us, artists. Especially beginning artists, those who are so unsure of themselves, they eat their fingers instead of typing words. They become wussified. They shake and tremble and shed their skin like tissue paper, terrified out of their minds to write something wrong, something utterly distasteful and abominable and frowned upon by critics and readers and anyone who picked up their book.
They feel paralyzed.
And what do they write, when feeling paralyzed? Paralyzed stories. Then all their fears come true. The critics tear them a new asshole. The readers give them bad reviews, and they think, "Yep, I knew it. Gotta study the rules harder." And so they do. They set out to read books on writing, every book there is. They study grammar. They go to seminars and classes and forums and lectures and talks and take down notes and organize them in their heads and feel good and educated and ready. And then they write more books. In a way, it's my story as much as it is yours. They, I―we all write and worry, and write and worry more. I think what ultimately happens is two things.
We either learn to stop worrying and not giving a shit, or...
We never stop worrying and give up.
This is how many books never get written. I found that to break through this doubt is to write a lot of stories and let them release you from this debilitating stagnation, by showing you the way YOU WRITE. This "way", this "thing", this "YOU", it starts poking its head through the rules, more and more and more. Until the day you see it. Until you get it that you are being YOU and not someone else. Until you understand that your writing is different, and it's a good thing. It's good that you're weird and strange and odd and bizarre and unusual, it's YOU. This is what readers want, a new voice, not a carbon-copy of what they've already read elsewhere, and YOU are the one who can give it to them.
Learn to not give a shit.
Write like you're writing for yourself.
Forget about rules.
Tell a story.
That is your job as a writer, to tell a story. So tell a story by any means you have available. Do it in such a way that it will make YOU satisfied. Write for yourself. Are you happy with it? No, I mean, are YOU happy with it? Great, then it's ready for the world. Are YOU not happy with it? Okay, then it needs more work. Would YOU read a story like that? Awesome. Why should anything else matter? As long as you're enjoying it, there is another human being out there, guaranteed, at least one, who will enjoy your story as much as you do.
What else can I do to convince you to believe in yourself? I guess there is one thing.
Read like crazy.
Read so much that words will start falling out of your ears and your brain will become a deep over-saturated purple. Read 1 book from 1 author and move on. Sample as many different writers in as short a time as possible. If you don't like the book, if the story doesn't speak to you, don't force yourself. Abandon it and move on. Chances are, soon you'll stumble on an author whose writing will be so similar to your perfect idea of how you want to write, it will make you cry. It will lift you up. You will feel your feet detaching from the floor. Grab this moment by the throat, arrest it. Start typing. Right there and then, before you lose that feeling, begin typing. Anything. A short flash fiction story, I don't know. It doesn't matter. You'll see what will happen. It will make you believe. Keep reading your way out of this paralysis.
And that day will come.
You won't give a shit anymore.
And you will write a brilliant book.