Tuesday, December 04, 2007

There is no right



I have good girl disease. I'm a rule follower. I like to do things right.

Want an example? In the parking lot at my kids' school there is a lane that's marked in bright yellow spray paint "Buses Only". This lane takes you right up to the front of the school; it's certainly the most convenient. Plus it's free of speed bumps. Lots of other parents use the "Buses Only" lane, but I never do. Even in the middle of the school day when there's no chance a bus might appear. Even if I have to go up to the school on a Saturday.

That yellow spray paint says "Buses Only" and I drive a Ford Explorer, not a bus. Obviously the right thing to do is to stick to the slower, more inconvenient, speed bump infested option.

When I was pregnant each time, I did that right. I followed the rules. I never drank. Never took so much as a Tylenol. I slept on my left side. I never took a hot bath. I wouldn't stand near the microwave when it was running. All the things you were supposed to do, I did.

I like to do what I'm supposed to do.

But lately I've started to think that trying to be right all the time is causing me a lot of unnecessary mental anguish--especially when it comes to writing.

Sure there are mountains of writing rules one can try to follow. Check out all of those writing books and web sites and you'll find lots of rules that good writers are supposed to adhere to*. Here are a few, just off the top of my head:

  • Minimize the use of adverbs.

  • Use "said" instead of "interjected" or "exclaimed" or even better don't use any dialogue tags at all. If you're doing it "right" the reader should know who is speaking without you having to tell them.

  • In fact don't tell anything: Show don't tell, right?


But what's frustrating when one is a rule follower is that those writing rules are broken all the time. Pick up virtually any book out there and you'll see examples of writing that doesn't follow the rules.

I've been pulling my hair out trying to write the right way, and there is no right way.

How did I realize this? I just finished Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, and I loved it. I gobbled it down in one day, I was so riveted. But Meyer doesn't always follow the writing rules. Actually, she breaks them regularly.

And what's worse in my mind, her story doesn't follow my own personal code for what's right. Her heroine is drawn to someone profoundly dangerous. In fact her heroine is just plain weak in lots of ways. She's rescued time and time again by a someone who's all wrong for her. Her life is literally in danger from being with this guy, but she doesn't care. She'd die for love.

Ugh! As a teen, I'd have bought that "love is worth anything" premise without hesitating. But now that I'm old and jaded and cynical I know that love is NOT worth anything. Still I tore through the book and can't wait to read the next in the series.

But it wasn't right. So why did I enjoy it so much?

Maybe because art can't be quantified by a list of rules. Maybe because when it comes to creativity there is no right.

I think I'm chasing my tail and torturing myself over something that doesn't exist. I've been convinced that if I try hard enough I should be able to write the right way. But there is no right. What works for one person is not going to work for someone else. I know I've said that before, but I hadn't connected it to my all-consuming need to be right all of the time.

There is no right. There is no right.

I'm going to keep saying that to myself, and I hope eventually, it will sink in!


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* In case you're wondering about whether or not it's right to end a sentence with "adhere to", most of the time it's fine to end sentences with prepositions. Check out this article if you don't believe me!

2 comments:

Cindy said...

Dear Renee:

Ah, yes. The Rules.

I think you're absolutely right. Break the rules you don't care for and uphold the things that bother you when you see them in someone else's work. And don't worry, you're terrific!

The "telling" thing is what I'm struggling with right now. The truth is, there HAS to be SOME telling. But anyway!

wyo said...

Renée,

I love this post! The leader of the writing group I attend was just going over this at our last meeting; she also said that sometimes when we learn too much about writing, we get caught up in the method and lose the magic. (She said it better than that; I'm paraphrasing, and cornily so.)

I agree with Cindy, too, that there has to be some telling! I think the only thing wrong with telling is when it's most things in the story that are revealed that way ... it detracts from the action. But you certainly don't do that.

Now I have a favorite metal tune, "Break the Rules," stuck in my head. You rock! ;)