Sunday, August 14, 2016

Asset or Accident, Experiment or Intuition?

Recently, a very talented writer confided that he never has the slightest idea whether his material is awesome or awful. And, he’s partially right: every writer needs feedback. Yet every writer also needs honest, judicious self-assessment.

Tip: Learn to be your own best, most trusted critic.

Writers usually know a ton of “rules,” everything from “Vary the length of your sentences,” to “Tension is the most beloved character in every novel.” If you know all those rules, and you’re a smart cookie, why can’t you see whether you break the rules unintentionally?

Because most novelists rationalize as skillfully as they write. And then, alas, succumb to their own rationalizations. Ever used one of these?
  • It’s monotonous to start every chapter with a hook.
  • Sometimes readers need a break from all that action and just want to overhear the characters thinking, wondering, and deciding.
  • Words like “anguish,” “yearning,” and “joy” engage readers emotionally.
  • An occasional point of view slip makes things more interesting.
  • Readers choose the novel form because in order to study history and savor description.
  • Anyone who can create compelling characters won’t need much plot.
Hmm. How much of a critic, or writer, can you expect to be if you defend every misstep, justify every self-indulgence, excuse every shortcut, and break every rule?

The trick is to know when you can—should!—break the rules. Certainly too many exist, along with too many instances where rigor should bow to the serendipity of inspiration. Still, those rules exist for a reason, so you need a reason to ignore them. 

Want some help deciding?

~ Identify and appreciate your skills.
Writers often prefer listing their faults. But to undermine those, you need your—assets.

~ Notice and exploit writing accidents.
            They produce some of the loveliest writing moments.

~ Experiment with your plans.
            Try things out. Take risks. You can’t revise what you never wrote.

~ Intuition.
Anyone inclined toward fiction intuitively knows when to ignore the rules.

Listen to yourself. What better way to discover much you already know?

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