Don’t let road blocks stop your creativity.


I’VE READ A LOT OF BOOKS and hundreds of blogs about the craft of writing. Many of those fall into the “how to write” or “rules of writing” categories. Seldom do I come away from such a book or article without gleaning a new tidbit or two.

I will admit right up front that I am not a big proponent of writing rules per se because I find that these most often are observations about writing that tend to set up road blocks to creativity.

No one who strives to put words on paper can possibly focus on the rules while pouring out his soul.

As I see it, writing rules are principles applied to writing after the fact. Perhaps a professor studied the works of Ernest Hemingway while doing an MFA thesis.  From his research he had takeaways about techniques Hemingway employed to make his prose zip and sing.

That’s all fine and good.

But the actual creation of a novel is a step removed from those techniques. The analysis a person superimposes on a chapter from a novel may have had nothing to do with the author’s process of creation.

Some poor soul was probably just sitting at a keyboard struggling with the  next phrase, worrying about why the words didn’t seem to work, fearing he would put himself and his reader to sleep if he kept up his present lifeless writing.

Then, perhaps, a sentence came along, the writer knew not from where, and it sounded right.  It expressed an emotion, or described a  moment, or maybe even captured an insight into the human drama.

Later the author may return to that sentence and consider its structure, break it down into its constituent parts to see what made it tick. In hindsight he may say, “Oh, that’s what Elmore Leonard meant.”

But no writer before he clicks the keys says, “I am going to write this sentence according to the rules of writing.”

Or at least I don’t believe that’s the way it happens.

All of this preamble is to say that the only rule of writing worth a hill of beans is that an author must keep at it, day in and day out. If he becomes a slacker, an occasionally writer, a hobbyist, he not only will lose any edge he had on his writing, he will slide backwards and have to re-learn what he once knew.

Writing is like working out at a gym.  If a person at the top of his game has can bench press two hundred and fifty pounds, and he lays off for six months, he will find he can’t even budge a bar with that much weight on it.

In other words, writing is not like riding a bike.  It is a cumulative craft where maintaining a skill level requires steady practice and concerted effort.

However, the comparison between writing and physical exercise breaks down at one critical point.

A person can measure her progress at the gym.  She can chart the number of sits up or push ups she can do in a minute.

A writer can only chart the number of words she has written in a given week or month or year.  What she can’t chart is whether the words she wrote one hundred thousands words before are better or worse than the last words she penned.

Self doubt, the eternal scourge of writers, would make an author despair that her most recent words were worthless.

That’s why when she is in doubt, she must just grind it out.

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