In high school there was a teacher who would discuss rules of language with us and explain some of them by stating that some guys in a white tower decided that this is the way it would be and so it is.
With English, I can understand why that statement would be made. We have a lot of rules that at times seem to have no explanation to them. Some are even inconsistent with other rules. But we accept them. ’Cause that is what was decided, long ago, by the dudes in the Big White Tower.
It seems lately that there are a lot of people out there vying for membership into this elite group, using their blogs as a sort of audition process.
To those of you trying out: Stop it already.
I’m not talking about people who simply like to be helpful with reminders about grammar and spelling rules we might forget. Or emphasizing the importance of when to use “their”, “they’re”, or “there”. I don’t mind helpful lovers of language. You’re nice.
The ones I do mind are out there making edicts, stating opinion as law. I know you’ve seen it. They are everywhere.
If I see one more character roll their eyes, I am going to set myself on fire.
When I read a book with adverbs, it makes me want to stab someone in the face.
If you are going to ever be published, you must have blah blah blah…
The trouble with these “rules” is that there is generally a basis in truth. It’s as if the person writing them consumed some useful knowledge, then processed it through some machine of disturbing absolutes before spitting them back out again in a twisted, gnarled version of what they once were.
Despite their wretched appearance, the little bit of truth allows them to sound like a plausible set of rules. Insecure writers (which is, let’s face it, a lot of us) read them and end up redlining their manuscript thinking they’ve repeatedly committed some cardinal sin. Confess, burn the manuscript, and start again.
For the writers trying so desperately to “get it right”, here is my one big piece of writerly advice (yes, this is unsolicited, so if you don’t want it, stop reading):
Don’t listen to everything you hear. Or more accurately, don’t give weight to everything you read.
I’m not saying there isn’t good advice out there. But, for the most part, when you see someone state something as law, particularly with words like “never” and “absolutely”, take a moment to think before you run screaming from your house, tossing pages of your manuscript into a ravine.
As I’ve said, within their declaration there is an element of truth. Yes, I don’t want to see your character roll his eyes in every paragraph, but there may be moments when that is the exact description I need to feel their exasperation.
And yes, there are better ways to show me that a character is in a “dreamy state” than to tell me they said something “dreamily”. But that doesn’t mean that I am going to throw myself off a building if I see a word ending in -ly.
See what I mean? Element of truth? Yes. But is the absolute blanket statement worthwhile? No.
If you read something that makes you want to curl up into the fetal position, hugging your manuscript whispering “I won’t quit you”, all the while sliding it closer to the paper shredder, stop reading it. Spend that time writing instead.
Now, for those of you guilty of telling the rest of the writerly world what they can and can’t do…
Are you really that insecure? Do you need that much attention? I mean, really, what is your deal?*
Some of you aren’t even published authors, and you are running around telling people what they can and can’t do when they write. What are your credentials? Oh, you’ve read Stephen King’s “On Writing” or Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”, have you? Guess what? Most of us have, too. And if you found what they said so valuable that you felt inspired to share, stop twisting their words into your crazy rules. Instead, recommend their books, or share what they said and credit them with information that is actually helpful.
You took a class you say? I took Calculus once. I shall now declare that 2+2=4.19478. See how stupid I sound? Guess what? That’s what you sound like.
Oh, and those of you published authors congratulating yourselves in the corner for not being in the line of fire? This applies to you, too. Just because you have been successful on some level, does not mean that writing and/or being published is “your way or the highway”.
Yes, it’s likely you have knowledge to share. By all means, share it. We love you for that. Tell us what worked and failed for you. Do not tell us what will work and fail for us.
If you are reading this and wondering if I am talking about you, there is a good chance I’m not. If you are reading this and getting all offended and thinking “but I know what I am talking about…who are you to tell me anything?” then, yeah, I’m probably talking about you.
If you are truly someone who loves the craft, who writes about it to share with others, to encourage them, to help them succeed, then stop writing rules. It’s that simple.
The White Tower is not taking applications at this time. Move on to something more productive.
*I am not ranting about people who state things strongly for the sake of emphasis. There are bloggers that do that, and do it well. Most people can’t get away with it. Strongly worded opinion is still presented as opinion. That is ok. Presenting it as fact is the issue.