Some rules to write by
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Last month, I posted about breaking the rules and I stand behind that. Rules, especially in writing, were meant to be broken. Now, I am not talking about spelling and grammar, in the final published product. These are necessary if our words are to be understood. I am talking about the rules of writing that are everywhere – in magazines, websites, blogs, books, seminars, podcasts, classes and so on. It seems everyone is willing to put in their two cents and most writers just manage to get tangled up in the dos and don’ts and manage to NOT write as a result.
Natalie Goldberg is the exception. Most writers or wanna be writers are familiar with her book, Writing Down the Bones. If you have ever wanted to write a book, play, memoir, or in a journal, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Another excellent book by her is Wild Mind. A number of years ago I bought a cassette version (now I am dating myself!) of her reading this book. I copied it over onto CD so I could listen to it in my car.
The last week or so I have felt at loose ends with my writing. I have been unmotivated, uninspired and at a loss. I began listening to Wild Mind on my way to and from work each day. And I find myself coming back to Natalie’s rules for writing again and again. These are some rules that make sense and go so much deeper than “don’t open a novel with the weather,” and “avoid dream sequences.” These rules open you up instead of making your breath feel tight and constricted.
The rules as Natalie sees them are as follows:
- Keep your hand moving.
- Lose control.
- Be specific.
- Don’t think.
- Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar.
- You are free to write the worst junk in America.
- Go for the jugular.
She explains that these rules can be applied to most activities in life, even sex. For that connection, you will have to buy the book, but it is true. 🙂
I particularly get stuck with rule #2, #4 and #7. I find, too often, in writing and life that I think too much and am afraid to lose control. I think most of us are like that. Our public selves have to behave and speak a certain way and God forbid we rock the boat. As I get older, I find this not-rocking-the-boat is starting to feel a little tight around my neck. I think I might like to cut loose a little and just let it rip, and my writing is the perfect place to do this.
#7 scares me most of all. Going for the jugular, writing the things that are scary or ugly. My inner critic is always correctly me telling me to make it prettier, to gloss over the truth if need be because my gosh, someone might read this! But here again, I think it may be time for a change. It may well be time to stop caring so much about what the neighbors think, about the possibility of being laughed at or even worse, noticed.
I think I am going to keep listening to this book all the way through. It is making me feel braver in the face of a blank page, a bit less concerned with the final product and more in tune with the deepest part of me that longs to pick up the pen.
What scares you most in writing and in life? Are you willing to get down and dirty and real?