The Rules of Writing
While we all know that certain rules apply to the written word; things like grammar and punctuation, sentence structure and all of the other things we learned in High School English class. That, however, is not the only thing there is to writing. Writing is as unique as you are. Each of us are different, so it only makes sense that our writing would be the same. Right?
There are so many people out there who say writing has to be done a certain way, that you have to follow this or that rule, but they’re wrong. We need only to look at e e cummings and Doctor Seuss to see that isn’t the case. Both of them wrote beautifully and neither paid much attention to the commonly accepted forms of language.
Now, I’m not saying that you should just chuck the English language rulebook out the window. I am saying that you shouldn’t let anyone tell you how your writing is supposed to be. Your writing is as much about who you are as what you’re saying. It’s part of you. You’re sharing YOUR vision in your writing. Not my vision, not Joe Next-door’s vision. Your vision. Only you can tell your story. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something. Most-likely their “course” or “system”.
Rough drafts aren’t supposed to be pretty. They’re supposed to be exactly what the name implies: Rough drafts. I’ve often said, “Rough drafts don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be written.” So, write how you want to write it, to get your thoughts down in print. They’re your thoughts and stories. How you write them is completely up to you.
Now, I do recommend that you observe good spelling and punctuation. If you’re making up words, that’s totally fine, too. However, following commonly accepted rules of grammar, punctuation and sentence structure will make it much easier for your readers to follow the story, it’s not a written in stone rule. If you write in a certain way, and you do it consistently, readers will begin to understand it for what it is. Especially if that’s how a certain character speaks or how the story is meant to be conveyed. I wouldn’t go so far as to make up your own language. That would make it impossible for the reader to follow the story, even with a dictionary or language guide at their fingertips. You want to tell a compelling story, not try to convince everyone to learn a new language.
Editing hurts us all. It’s a fact. Your writing is like a part of you, so when you have to cut out pieces or change entire scenes, it’s like cutting a piece of yourself. I know it hurts, but it’s absolutely necessary to keep the story going where it needs to go. An unedited manuscript will be filled with mistakes you never knew you made along the way, but will be glaringly obvious to a reader. After all, they’re reading the story and looking at it in a totally different way than you do. You know exactly what you were trying to say. A passage might make perfect sense to you, since you have the exact image in mind of what you were describing. But if your reader doesn’t have that frame of reference, then the imagery will be completely lost on them. You have to edit and have another set of eyes (i.e. an editor) go over the writing to find those mistakes we can’t see for ourselves. Editing might be painful, but it’s absolutely necessary to tell a complete and cohesive story to our readers. Trust me, editing it yourself will be a mistake. You will always miss things a different person might not.
Everything we write will help to make our writing better. Even when we write something that we don’t end up keeping. Every writer has written something that they would never want published. Writing isn’t just some mystical talent imbued on certain people. It’s a skill that has to be practiced and perfected over time. The more you do it, the better that skill will become. That’s only if you’re actively working to improve. Some people don’t want to see the negative or refuse to admit that something they wrote was bad. I’m not afraid to toss out entire sections or chapters in order to improve the whole body of the manuscript. Never forget that the story is what’s important, not the storyteller. The writing is the focus, not the writer. We want people to read and love our stories. Keep working towards improvement and keep the focus on the story.
Constructive criticism is something that we should all appreciate. We can learn and grow from that. Now, some people will say nasty and hurtful things, just because they can. When I get a negative comment or review, I evaluate it to see if there is anything in it that might have any real bearing on the writing. Do they make a valid point, just in a nasty way? If so, take that one thing and work to fix it. Ignore the rest. There will be negative reviews and comments just because they want to be negative or to deliberately lower your ratings. That’s another blog entry, but the best rule is “Don’t Feed the Trolls.” You’ll find that if you don’t respond to them, they will find someone else to bother. Unfortunately, that’s the trouble with the internet. So many people can post nasty or derogatory things in complete anonymity. They know that they can get away with it, but they wouldn’t ever do it to your face. Take that for what it is. Someone just being nasty because they can. Ignore them. If it’s bad enough, report it to your social media platform or Amazon or whoever. Generally, they will remove and ban them, if the transgression was bad enough or they have a clear history of bullying. Will that stop them? Unfortunately, no. They’ll likely just create a new account and go right back to it. Again, take criticism for what it is. Evaluate it for anything useful and move on. If they have wonderful things to say, as most will, enjoy the praise and keep writing. If they don’t, well… ignore them and move on. It’s all we can do.
Only you can tell your story. Some people will like it and some won’t. That’s the essence of writing. You can’t write something that everyone will love. Even the greats in the literary world have people that can’t stand their writing, for whatever reason. It’s going to happen. So, find the audience that likes what you write and write for them. But more importantly, write for yourself. Write your unique story and be your unique self. Follow the language rules that you must, but the writing itself is all about your vision and yours alone. No one can tell you how you’re supposed to write your story. That’s a good metaphor for everything else, really. Be who you are, no matter what anyone else says. Tell your own story and don’t let anyone tell you how your story has to be written. Only you know how it’s supposed to go.
I’ll leave you with something I heard a long time ago. I visited a Navajo Reservation with my mother when I was a boy, and met some amazing people. I sat and listened as an elderly man spoke. While he spoke in the Navajo language, more singing than speaking really, I was later told that I had just witnessed the closing of something called a “Blessing Way” ceremony. He ended it with a phrase in English that has stuck with me all these years.
He said, “May you walk in beauty.”
That’s my wish for you all. Walk in beauty. Always.
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