Thursday, January 31, 2013

Question of the week

Google free images

I usually give writing tips and advice. Today, however, I’d like your opinion on a polemical issue. I read “somewhere” that in today’s writing world, we as writers must be true to ourselves. The article said writers should fight conformity and avoid following the rules (the word used was confinement); a bit extreme if you ask me.
Furthermore, the article mentioned that “Writing is a zero-sum game; someone else’s gain is your loss.” I was somewhat perplexed when I read that we should not listen to the wisdom of other writers, whether found in a classroom, a writer’s group, a craft book, a writer’s magazine, or another blog.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree/disagree? I’d love to hear from you.


  1. Sounds too deep for me.

    I think there are three rules.

    1. Write what readers want to read
    2. Leave out what they skip over
    3. Follow the guidelines of the craft unless you have a reason not to

    - Mac

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi Mac,
    Your three rules make SO much sense. I agree 100%
    Thanks for your input ;)
    P.S. nice seeing you around again ;)
    P.S.S. I had a typo so I had to delete my previous reply.

  4. Personally, I feel writing can be unique to the individual (as it should be), but obviously, there are those 'writers' out there making a successful career out of formulaic writing, so by the time you're into their third novel you more or less know what's coming - but that's when a skilled writer rises above the mundane. Even though they use a working formula, their readers are still gripped by the skill of the writer's craft.

    Then on the other hand you get certain writers for whom grammar is a secondary consideration, as an example, shall we say, a certain vampire/girl/werewolf franchise, and worse still, those damnable books regarding shades of a certain dull colour (now that IS tripe!).

    But, so long as the readers get something from the reading, then the writer has done their job. I recall times during my degree for graphic design, when attempting something 'fresh', only to be pulled down for it by the tutors, who would suggest using a style/method by designer A, or designer B. But why? Yes, such designers had a major influence and set a benchmark, but if it were not for them breaking away from their norms they wouldn't be the founding figures of design that they are today.

    So I found that baffling? People like conformity in many aspects of life, and for those who dare break away from it others get unsettled and nervous about it. Sometimes the only way forward is to go off the well-worn path of normality and create your own path.

    At least that way no one can compare you with someone else and 'pfft' your efforts as merely being reproduction/imitation.

    I think, and this is only my own humble opinion, as a writer, an individual needs to find their own voice from which to speak to the reader. Once they have that, then let that voice talk to the page.

    We can never be truly original or unique, for we have our own inbuilt vault of verbal, visual and aural recordings - our subconscious. Like it or not, this will seep out and influence your work, no matter what form it takes, but how we use that information is what sets apart the seriously inspirational to the rather mundane.

    Read, don't read, attend a class or don't attend a class, whatever we do is drawn from the external influence of others, be it on a minute scale or downright copycat.

    Failing all that, if one unique person writes an amazingly mind-blowing book, some arse out there reviewing it will compare it to author A or author B. Mobius strip, folks ;)

    1. "I think, and this is only my own humble opinion, as a writer, an individual needs to find their own voice from which to speak to the reader. Once they have that, then let that voice talk to the page."

      I love this. I believe it. And it's hard to do.

    2. Hi Mark,
      Thanks for sharing your opinion. I like what you said, "We can never be truly original or unique..." This is so true as we've been influenced by so many people throughout the years. I for once have been influence by Hemingway's and Carver's writings as well as my own mentors. SO my originality comes from an inspiration and I give it my own twist. ;)

  5. Personally speaking, I think my writing improves a gazillion per cent after I attend a writing course or have my work critiqued (when I'm able to and when I'm very very lucky) by published authors. I think my writing vision is my own and no-one else's but it's too raw and unfocused and without shape and I think learning certain techniques, being critiqued and yes, going to school! helps me. Take care

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Like Mark said above, it's our choice to take workshops or take classes or read someone else's work and opinions. In the end, only we can decide that. We have the power to let certain information influence us or not. In my case, I need to take workshops from time to time, or at least, talk to my mentors to "guide me". They don't write my stories, I do. So yes, this is very personal. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. About the first matter, I think there are different kind of writers and different reasons because you write, so it's not a duty fight conformity and rules but a choise. Of course your work has to be interesting/new because if it's not, no one would read it.

    About the second topic, I disagree about “Writing is a zero-sum game; someone else’s gain is your loss.” Writing is expressing your unique voice, so, in my opinion, as long as a writer apports something new is a gain for everyone.

    1. Hi Laura,
      Interesting what you said in your last sentence, I agree, too. Writers bring something to the table, and if it's new then, we all gain from it.

  7. I don't agree with that. The writer's circle is usually quite helpful and understanding. We go through the same problems, frustrations, and challenges, so we need to support each other through all of that. I like Mac's rules. I would also like to add: Don't believe everything you read.

    1. Hi Abby,
      LOL! Yes, nowadays we cannot believe everything we read. We have to pick and choose carefully. We have to use judgment. Thanks for adding that.

    2. By the way, Abby, I couldn't find your blog. There's no link to your name. Do you have one?

  8. Oh, this post is so interesting because I was just designing a writing course that would look at the various forms of short fiction and began the description with this sentence, "Limitation creates freedom." It might be seen as an oxymoron, and yet having rules and structure gives us space to focus on content (story in the case of my course). I for one become very irritated when I have to read and reread passages that do not follow the grammatical rules with which I was raised. If there is sloppiness with agreements of tense or person it can become tiresome to go back and reread until one understands what has been said. I confess I am a lazy reader, and want to understand as much as I can the first time.

    It has been said that narcissism is the prevailing disease of this age - and to exist in a "vacuum," attentive to one's own writing only, seems both foolish and dangerous. What happens to the joy and the wisdom of learning from and with others!?

    1. Hi Jan,
      So nice to see you around here :)
      I absolutely love your comment. WOW!
      "Limitation creates freedom" It makes complete sense to me. We have to understand and follow the rules in order to break them, in order to come up with something fresh. To me, the perfect example is "To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf. When I read it, I was a bit frustrated but then I realized she broke the rules. Her sentences were sometimes too long and sometimes too short. There was no omniscient narrator, and instead, she shifted perspectives from different characters. Her book, therefore was an amazing masterpiece. It was a Picasso with words ;)

      Jan, I also want to add that your last statement is so true. I think good writing comes from the heart and not the ego. Unfortunately, we live in an egotistic society.

      Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful thoughts.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Quite extreme, and dare I say, even a little bitter? I've always thought fighting conformity to be a bit of a hypocritical move-- Not conforming for the sake of not conforming is conforming!

    I don't believe someone else's gain is another's loss. It's just a belief that I choose not to give any energy to. When a fellow artist succeeds, I only feel happiness. Their success is opening the doors to many others. That's how I've always thought it worked! And the evidence supports it, at least in my experience.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with listening to the wisdom of other writers, but I think at some point, you must turn all that advice off and just write.

    1. Hi Raquel,
      You share the same thoughts as Laura above. Yes, if you succeed, you're leading the way for many people after you. Pioneers in every sense of the word have opened the path for all of us.

      And yes, like I told Mark, you need to learn from the masters but you take what you want. When my mentors tell me how to fix my story, I decide what I'll delete or add (as long as this doesn't compromise grammar, syntax, or punctuation).

      Thanks for your input, Raquel.

  11. Well, if by fighting conformity the author of the article meant to say that we must be able, sometimes, to break the rules, then I have to agree... After all, some of the most outstanding artistic results came out of breaking a rule or two, right? But I'm not really sure this is what the author was trying to say.

    "We as writers must be true to ourselves". I don't know, it doesn't sound that wrong or daring to me... I, as a writer, would try to express my own feelings through the voice of many characters. I would try to at least... oh well, what the hack does "be true to ourselves" mean??

    Someone else's gain is your loss.
    Unless a writer is competing for the Pulitzer Prize, I don't really see writing as competition. We write to express ourselves, to toss our voice out into the world.If someone else is successful in doing so, does that really prevent us from being successful too? A good piece of writing will always be a good piece of writing, no matter what others write and how successful they are, right?

    Not listen to the wisdom of other writers, writer's groups, bloggers, etc...
    I guess it depends on who the writers, bloggers, members of the writer's groups are... Otherwise, a critique is not only helpful, but essential.
    I agree with Raquel though. At some point, turn all that advice off and just write.

  12. Hi Jay,
    You hit the nail when you said, "If someone else is successful in doing so, does that really prevent us from being successful too?" Like I told Jan above, writing must come from the heart, not the ego. So yes, if someone else is successful, we can learn from their success and apply what best suits our writing, our style.
    I have learned so much from my fellow writers and mentors. This only made me a better writer.

    I think all the comments here agree on one thing: be yourself and use your judgment when taking someone else's advice.

  13. Claudia you might find this interesting. The link is to OFW. I'm one of the editors. The Rack asks various authors various questions including one that asks for a response to Elmore Leonard's 'rules' on writing. China Mieville's is interesting as are those from other writers if you check through the Rack Archives

    1. Hi Mike,
      Thank you for sharing this link. I'll check it out. ;)

  14. Hi, Claudia, I think as a writer you have to be true to yourself and find your own "voice", and not be an imitator, but that shouldn't stop one from learning from others. There's a difference between not being confined by rules and knowing rules before you break them. The best writers do break rules, but only once they know what they are doing.

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      You mentioned something so true, "The best writers do break rules, but only once they know what they are doing." I love your perspective on this :)
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.