f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Writing and Advice

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Writing and Advice

(This was supposed to go up last night. Blogger was giving me problems. It's up this morning. Thanks.)

I don’t know if this will surprise you or not, but in general I don’t read writing books. I read Stephen King’s On Writing, which seemed to be only half about writing. At Penn State, I think we used Writing Down the Bones for a textbook for one of the classes, but I can’t remember anything about it. I’ve never even picked up Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

This is going to be a odd transition, but now that I think about it, my attitude toward writing books is a lot like my attitude toward birthing classes. I attended a 12-hour birthing class with my wife prior to our first daughter being born. It ended up being one of the greatest frustrations of my life because, in the end, nobody could say anything definite. (That and our class spent 45 minutes talking about making sure your dog’s feelings weren’t hurt by bringing the baby home. It’s a dog, people. Get a grip.)

Anyway, “It’ll depend on your delivery,” was the take home message of the class. They showed us video, gave us tips and hints, and all those things. But time after time, one of the instructors would completely contradict the other instructor or undermine what they said. You left thinking, “Well, it’ll either be black or white, left or right, up or down.”

People say writing is like giving birth. Blah. But in a sense, teaching is meaningless outside the actual experience of writing itself. Yes there are hints and tips and we can get excited about these (i.e. Stephen King’s crusade against adverbs) but really, there’s a flip-side to every argument, a head for every tails. I’ll let a better writer than myself take a further stab at talking about…see Neil Gaiman talking about how it’s possible to “break every rule” in literature…but only when you know the rules in the first place.

So that’s really what this advice or anyone hints are about. They’re not about definitive explanations of how to write. They’re only some bits of fluff that say, “This works. Sometimes. For some people. But maybe not you. Or maybe it will.”

In the end, who knows…

Actually that’s not a rhetorical question. There’s an answer.

You. You know. But you only know what rules apply and what you’ll simply not be bothered with this time out by WRITING. Okay then.