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Writing Rules Are Made To Be Broken

I've been AWOL here, and apologize for that. I've been given the glorious freedom to work from home for my law practice, and I find that I work a lot more hours. That's good for the office bottom line, but bad for my non-legal scribbling. Did anyone miss me? (Don't answer that.) When I've found time to write, I've been plugging away at Vlad's story, from my Forever Series that starts with "A Faerie Fated Forever." It's meant that the blog has been neglected though -- which isn't good. Can someone add a couple more hours in a day?

Because I do try to keep up with literary happenings, a recent piece in the Guardian caught my eye. It's writing tips from acclaimed novelist/creative writing instructor, Colum McCann, titled, "So You Want To Be A Writer? Essential Tips for Aspiring Novelists. Likely, it caught my attention because one of his first tips is that "there are no rules. Or, if there are any rules, they are only there to be broken. Embrace these contradictions."  I'm a rule-breaker from way back, so I settled in for a read.

McCann says "to hell" with grammar, formality, plot and structure - but only after you've learned them so well that you can walk through your work "with your eyes closed."  He points out that the great ones will make their own rules, only to break them  and unmake them.

He says that a writer's first line should "reach in and twist your heart backward," and it should be active, "plunging your reader into something urgent."  And what should that first line be about?  What kind of book should you write?  The old adage says to write what you know, but McCann disagrees.  He says to "write towards what you want to know."  By this he means that writers can - and should- create characters who are people the writer would never be and would never want to be.  To do this well, and create a character that leaps off the page, a writer must empathize with the character. And empathy, McCann says is tough and violent and can "rip you open," changing you forever. That rang true because I've experienced it in several of my books.  I first experienced it in my first book, "Brotherly Love."

The most important tip that McCann gives applies to aspiring authors - and those who've written a dozen books.  The only way to write is - to write. "A writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair."  He says to stare the blank page down, don't worry about word count and keep your arise in your chair.

McCann says to create characters by introducing them in a "singular moment in time" when they are about to change or collapse.  Avoid the information overload and show the moment and to "make it make it traumatic, make it mournful or make it jubilant."  Just make it so that your readers care about the person painted by the words.  Dialogue is a way to paint your characters more vividly, he says, but remember that everyone speaks differently and has different quirks.

He discusses structure and plot.  One of his points about plots really struck home.  He says to "unbloat" your plot because nothing is better than a "spectacular piece of inaction" - like "Ulysses" points out the author who is himself originally from Dublin. McCann makes important points about grammar, research, and learning from failure.

My favorite part of the article is that part that is my goal, what I want to do every time my fingers meet a keyboard - to write well.  McCann writes well when he describes good writing like this:

Good writing will knock the living daylights out of you. Very few people talk about it, but writers have to have the stamina of world-class athletes. The exhaustion of sitting in the one place. The errors. The retrieval. The mental taxation. The dropping of the bucket down into the near-empty well over and over again. Moving a word around a page. Moving it back again. Questioning it. Doubting it. Increasing the font size. Shifting it around again and again. Sounding it out. Figuring the best way to leave it alone. Hanging in there as the clock ticks on. Not conceding victory to the negative. Getting up off the ground when you’ve punched yourself to the floor. Dusting yourself off. Readjusting your mouth guard. Sustaining what you have inherited from previous days of work.

Again, check out the article:  here.

I don't know if any of my tales have knocked the "living daylights" out of you - yet. I'll keep learning to write by writing, and by listening to tips from other folks.  Writers grow as they write, and their work evolves as they grow. It's the cycle of life - grow and change or wither and die.   So, if the last one of mine you read didn't rock your world, please check out another one.  The next one might be the one to make you laugh and cry and cheer - and feel better about a bad day or a crappy week.  That's my ultimate goal and in one way or another, I think it's every writer's goal. I'll keep trying to reach it with each book for each reader.