Friday, June 28, 2013

Get Out of Your Way

Post By Kerrie

As some of you may know, after a decade+ of writing nonfiction, I am trying my hand at a novel. I have held off sharing it with my critique group or anyone for that matter. I wanted to get far enough along to have a solid understanding of the story line and characters before getting input.

There is a contest I heard about, The Strongest Start, that asks participants to send in the first three chapters of a novel. The part that really appealed to me was that the novel did not need to be complete yet, because mine is not.

It was time for me to get input from other people. I sent off my first three chapters to a few trusted writing friends for feedback, then anxiously waited for their responses.

They all sent back good/helpful feedback, but one friend who has know me the longest and has seen my writing from the very beginning, said to me, "You're getting in your own way. You are letting the 'rules' dictate your writing."

  • Get rid of the passives
  • "was" is a bad word
  • Don't use "ing" words
  • Delete ALL adverbs
  • Vary your sentence structure
  • Too much description bogs down a story
  • Each character should have a distinct voice
  • Don't include "info dumps"
  • avoid clich├ęs 
Then she made this profound statement that I plan to write down and hang up somewhere. "We get so caught up in making it good writing, we forget about making it good reading."

A light bulb went off. For the past few years I have taught classes about "the rules" of writing and I have worked with other writers on fixing up their manuscripts. I have immersed myself in the rules and now it has gotten the best of me. 

What made this point crystal clear, was when my friend said the chapter that flowed and read really well was the third chapter. I told her this was a chapter I wrote about six years ago when I got the original idea for the book. Six years ago I wasn't letting rules dictate my writing. 

Am I saying disregard the rules completely? No but what I am saying is we shouldn't let them be the guiding force in our writing. We need to let our creative self take the helm and be allowed the freedom to travel where it needs to go without all the rules getting in the way. 

What do you think? 


Sharon Himsl said...

I have had a similar experience with my novel. My critique group commented that my later chapters were my best, which surprised me, because my opening chapters had been rewritten and polished so much more. 'Over writing' can destroy a novel and you are so right that it needs to read well above all. I have also noticed that published fiction often breaks the rules you mention. I'm a boater and love the idea of our creative self at the helm. I'll keep that image in mind. Thanks!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I think rules, applied gently and sparingly, are for the revision and editing phases of writing. I write my first drafts with very little attention to anything but story/plot.

Jerry Eckert said...

And I have a friend and critique partner who says of my novel,"just keep writing." By which she means minimize the worry about the rules and the niceties and just get the damned words on the page. Niceties come later.

Anonymous said...

I love your writing. I'm always excited to read your posts.

I think the writer should be creative, and the editor should clean it up. :-)

Lynn said...

Love that quote about good reading! Your post reminds me of all the writers who have said to "just write" the first draft - just get it down. Polish later. Thanks for sharing your journey. It provokes me to stop fiddling and get the story down!

Kerrie said...

Thank you everyone for stopping by and commenting. I agree Sharon, overwriting can destroy a novel.

Pat, I agree the rules should be applied sparingly. I didn't even realize until the revision stage though, that I was over doing it with all the rules.

Just keep writing is good advice Jerry.

Becky, thank you for your kind words. I like your philosophy.

Lynn, sometimes it is hard to stop fiddling. :-)

Ghadeer said...

I agree! Keep the rules in mind as guidelines, but don't let anything limit you and write freely.

Anonymous said...

I find a lot of these rules helpful as a "stop and think" but not a full stop. For example, I'll run a search and replace for "ing," but it doesn't mean I'll cut every one. It means that I look at each one and ask myself if that's the strongest, best way to say it in that instance.

My favorite rule to break is writing in complete sentences! Although that one's not as verboten as it once was.

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