Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing Rules? Screw Them.

I’m in the middle of my manuscript. My premiere “Ohh look at me, I’m a published author!” novel is set to be completed by mid summer.

I saw that. I saw you turn up your nose at me, roll your eyes, and think:

“She was coming out with a book a while ago. What’s taking her so long?”

“Everyone is a writer, but I never see the product.”


You always hear writers saying their working on the “book.” The book you never actually see them writing. The book they refer to as, “I’m not sure of my title, synopsis, and theme, but it’s going to be good. I promise you.” The book that’s been writing itself for the last three years. Yeah, THAT book.

I’m here to tell you that, THAT book is real. It scowls at me from its hundred page mark on my night stand. It wakes me up during my sleep, riddling me with paper cuts and flimsy ideas. It even laughs at me from my briefcase as I instruct my students. By God, I hate THAT book.

I know a few posts ago I spoke of my writing resolutions and probably had a few “rules” in there, for myself. However, I’ve had a few emails crawl into my inbox asking for writing and scheduling advice. About those writing rules…yeah, screw them.

A few years back I consulted with my best friend, Google, on writer’s habits. After trudging through tons of articles, blogs, and bullet point lists on the net; I meticulously took notes and tried to apply them to my everyday life. IMPOSSIBLE. Between school, performing on the weekends, and the almighty “love”, it was hard to stick to a specific writing schedule with the mass of events that popped up. Knowing this, slowed my creativity for a while. I halted most of my writing endeavors, excluding poetry, until I left school or had more time on my hands. During my senior year, I had less classes and performances and pulled my notebook from its cave once again. I sat by a bright window, ready to begin a solid writing schedule, spring blooming from the park in view, and rescued my Pentel RSVP from the recesses of my desk. I was ready to go.

Nothing happened. Absolutely, NOTHING.

I wrestled with my anxiety.

Was I losing my touch?

Did I lose the zest for my manuscript?

Was I not cut out to be a great writer, after all?

No, no, and no. It wasn’t happening because I was forcing it. It was too prompt, I was too "ready", and I just was NOT in the mood. With that said, I’m here to tell you that there is only ONE rule in writing that you must absolutely, positively follow:


While in a workshop with Stacey-Ann Chin, one of my favorite authors/poets, she told us that her writing mentor, Walter Mosley, told her that she HAD to write at least two hours a day. She said that even if she had nothing to write about, she would literally have to stare out of her apartment window and start, “There’s a tree outside, and it blows in the wind…” She used literal description to get her started and sometimes it developed into something, sometimes it didn’t. Either way, she’d fulfilled her two hour obligation for the day. Most of the “rules” I took from texts told me to write during the time of the day I felt comfortable (morning, noon, or night) and STICK TO IT. However, I noticed within Stacey’s advice she’d never given a specific time. I even stuck around to ask her a question that pestered me, “Do you really have to write two hours, EVERYDAY?”

She snickered and replied, “No, that’s what I do. You just make sure you write everyday. An hour, minute, or whatever. Just don’t let this writing sh*t get to your head.”

If you know Ms. Chin, you’ll know that’s just her style. Anyway, I shared that small anecdote to render that I took her advice. Writing with no rules, excluding those having to do with grammar and spelling, have benefited me tremendously within the last five years. So here goes:

1) You should write everyday at a specific time and schedule your writing for each week. Actually, I write when I find the time. If it’s right after I wake up, during my lunch in the teachers lounge, or after dinner; it doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that I get at least an hour or so of writing in each day, no matter how broken up that time may be. Feel free to grab that pen when you feel motivated. Otherwise, you’ll start writing unmotivated crud. No one wants to read unmotivated crud.

2) Read books that cover the cultivation and honing of your craft. I’ll read whatever I damn well please, thank you. If you’re into how-to writing books, read them. However, I’ve been motivated by a quirky quote on the back of a shampoo bottle. Inspiration is everywhere. You don’t always need a prompt to direct your imagination.

3) Reward yourself when you’ve finished a task. Is a cookie going to magically push you to the next chapter? No. Honestly, I’d stay away from the kitchen. That way you won’t be inclined to catch the itis and fail to finish your goal for the day. Or have a cookie before you start, perhaps your descriptive writing will be facilitated by the yummy goodness in your mouth.

4) When writing a blog, schedule what you’ll write each day. Now, if you’re going to write something on the crisis in Egypt or any other article that needs research that might not be a bad idea. But if you have a personal blog like I do, WING IT! Sometimes I know what I’d like to write a week in advance. Sometimes I have no clue. Most times I schedule boring posts and some memory or annoying coworker slaps my cerebral and they end up becoming my topic for the day.

5) Choose a font & stick to it. Really? Reallllllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyy? Microsoft Word has been trying to sway me towards Times New Roman all these years, but I’ve got a thing for Georgia. Just because your drop down menu can’t be permanently changed, DOESN’T MEAN THAT I WON’T CHANGE IT EVERYTIME! Hear me Bill Gates? Whew, now that that’s over, feel free to use whatever font you’d like. You can try a new one every hour for all I care.

Writing is a burdening task. A construction worker’s tool belt weighs him down while committing to a task just as our pen and pad stare at us from afar screaming at us to use them. Most are under the misconception that our day is not filled with anxiety and stress, just as the average worker. (Although most of us have other professions alongside writing.) A friend of mine, who is a full time writer, says his workaholic wife comes home and asks him what he’s done for the day. He says, “I got six great pages completed today.” She smiles, but the translation in her mind is: I sat on my behind and punched a keyboard while drinking coffee. But I KNOW that what we do is just as difficult. Knowing this, is what prompted me to show that you don’t have to add any other extremities to your already heavy load.

Those were just a few of the overtly reiterated writing rules that annoy me. The point of all this formatting, back linking, and blabber was to tell you to WRITE.

Or in the words of Ms. Chin, “…You just make sure you write everyday. An hour, minute, or whatever. Just don’t let this writing sh*t get to your head.”



Ciara said...

ahh... being an artist... I feel I can relate... great art isn't just accomplished... but doing a little bit everyday is what you need to get to being great...
love the new layout by the way...

T. ODIS said...

I read this dope book at HU called the War of Art. Quick read. Speaks on some of this stuff.

P.S.: I sneak my journal out at my desk, mostly before lunch.


Unknown said...

i found that i just didn't have the heart to write. it's been months since i wrote a poem. i started to write again in my journal though. i always seem to forget how therapeutic it all is when i stop doing it.

i write everyday about things that don't interest me and things that do so i never worry about writing.

btw, i will definitely continue to support your writing because you are amazing at what you do and i can tell that you're dedicated and passionate about your craft. that is beautiful to me.

Militankerous said...

This is such good advice. I'm probably going to be lifting this to teach my English comp class down at the GED Center. I've been talking about similar things with them. The conundrum of being a writer. Finding time. Realizing the process isn't perfect. And writing through it anyway. My issue as a writer is I don't want anyone to see anything until I feel it is absolutely wonderful and in the process I miss out on sharing what I believe to be some decent musings. Whatever. Love you Riv. Great post. Once again.


Some much needed advice, i have a million marble notebooks (which I actually prefer over journals) with unfinished stories, Journals that I've never even written half way through (because each journal is supposed to chronicle a certain part of my life) I can't even document my life correctly, but she was right, not letting it get to me helps.

Veronica said...

JUST what I needed write now..because this writing shit WAS getting to me head! I'm serious about the swap if you still want to. Maybe in a few weeks?

*sigh* I've gone back to the semi-drawing board. I hate me imagination right now

Little Miss Knobody said...

I'm not much of a "writer", but I'm definitely an artist. I understand so much of what you're saying. I believe that you should do something creative everyday to improve your craft no matter what the medium is.