Want to know how to kill a writer?
Save for the tedious bullet in the brain, the boring drowning in a bucket, or the ho-hum of the heave-ho over the side of a bridge, the most devious, unforgettable way to kill a writer is a lot more subtle. Subtle, but despicable. Something that will without a doubt mind-fuck them seven ways from Sunday.
The best way to kill a writer is to suffocate them with The Rules.
Absolutely! Tease those fuckers out, word for word. Wrap them around your wrist until all the Don’t Do Thises and Don’t Do Thats and Don’t Do Those Other Things become a strong, sturdy rope. And then strangle ’em ’till their eyes pop out.
But first encourage them to write. Insist they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and create. Beg them to bring to life their amazing story and those incredible characters.
And then the moment they type “Chapter One” uppercut them by denying them adverbs. Karate chop them by demanding they never start a chapter with dialogue. Order them to never do any of the other things Those Who Think They Can Write tell Those Who Really Can Write not to do. Ever.
Seriously, if you want to completely neuter someone to the point where the Fear of Doing It Wrong far surpasses their God-Given Need to Write, the joy they feel in putting words to paper getting creamed at the intersection of Doubt and Regret, hit them over the head with The Rules.
When I started writing my first book Martuk … The Holy, I was cruising. Man, I was slamming out three, four, five thousand words a day (I’m a speed writer). Just humming along, on top of the world, feeling good. Really good. And writing great stuff! Not perfect, mind you — that’s what rewrites are for –, but good enough. So good I actually found myself entertaining the ridiculous thought that ‘maybe, just maybe, I can do this writing thing’.
And then I was told that as good — or, actually, as great — as my work was, I was doing it all wrong.
Yep. Wrong. And if I wanted to be taken seriously and not make a complete fool of myself — the implication being other Writers would snigger behind my back like bitchy little schoolgirls if I didn’t change my ways — I’d have to start over from Word One and do it “right”.
Stopped. Me. In. My. Tracks. Knocked me over. The humiliation at having done it “wrong” so embarrassed me that I shoved Martuk in the virtual bottom drawer and denied his existence. For a year. The story still lived and the characters still spoke. But not knowing the “right way” to bring them to life, I did my best to ignore them.
Guess I wasn’t a writer after all.
And then one day I did what I always do. Ignoring reason and logic, wrong or right, I dusted off the ol’ MS and got back to work.
I mean, really. Fuck ’em. I never claimed to be perfect, so why should my work be?
Sure, I’d taken a look at the books and blogs and websites that ostensibly celebrate Writers and the Art of Writing. The black pixels on white which encourage the collective Us to find our brilliance and discover our Voice all while kneecapping Us with a growing, often contradictory List of Things To Never Do. Their Personal Ten Commandments playing on the assumption that we need to be accepted and embraced by our peers and then insisting, if we want that to happen, we had to Do This and That and Never, Ever do That.
I don’t need to be embraced. Or accepted. By anyone, really. That’s not why I write.
So that’s what I did. I wrote. I finished Martuk … The Holy. Published it. Got consistently great reviews. Sold some copies. And I’m damn proud of that book. And then I wrote another, The Wounded King. Short Fiction. Inspired by Martuk. And then The Elder. More Short Fiction. Again, inspired by Martuk. More books in the pike. Red and Gold next, followed by Martuk … The Holy: Proseuche. And then more after that, all mapped out, titled, ready to go. None of them “following the rules.” Don’t know if they ever will.
Like a literary Mister Magoo, I am blissfully ignorant of the laws I’m breaking.
You see, what I’ve discovered is Readers don’t give two shits about The Rules. Of course, they expect Writers to know basic sentence structure and how to spell and how NOT to butcher the language. We gotta make it an easy read for them or they throw in the towel. A knowledge of grammar and spelling helps. And if we’re self-published, it’s always best if our work is formatted properly. These basic things help to keep those pages turning.
But the Rules? If it’s a great story told well, Readers don’t care. They just want to lose themselves in the pages. To have these strangers on the page catch them, pick them up, body slam them, and make them cry “Uncle!”
Frankly, that’s hard to do if you tie your hands with Rules.
So, are you a writer throwing the Rules out the window and just writing what you write, all those Don’t Do Thats be damned!, simply because it’s how the story must be told?
Or are you sitting there, fingers frozen above the keyboard, the humiliation at breaking The Rules stronger than your Story? Simmering with resentment and frustration as the fear of doing it wrong smothers you and kills your talent?
Think about it. Really. Take a moment and be honest with yourself. Which is it?
In other words, are you dead yet?