Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Epic Fail

Over in the Books and Writers Forum there is a thread discussing the infamous 10 rules of writing. These “rules” are often followed in an attempt to learn the craft of writing, to produce a superior product, if you will. Some people pointed out that those rules had a purpose because they’d seen newbie writers break them and to disastrous results. Which got me thinking… is it really so bad to fail?

I remember my first bike, a Pepto Bismol pink Huffy. That Huffy was totally hooked –silver streamers on the handlebars, white basket with hot pink plastic daisies on it, and the ultimate of cushy banana seats. It was awesome. Except I didn't know how to ride. Slight problem easily remedied by learning how to ride a bike. Now my father, who was never known for his common sense, decided the best way was to put me on the bike and put the bike on a hill… Let’s just say, me and the rose bushes, we danced that day.

Scratched, bruised and thoroughly ticked off, I vowed never to ride again. Only there were my friends doing lovely figure eights, zooming down hills, executing bunny-hops, and basically living it up in riding Shangri-La. I had to try again. This time with a very nice and sensible babysitter (sorry, Dad). We went slowly, going up and down a level street. Yeah, I fell over, and yeah it took time, but eventually I was flying free. Eventually me and my Huffy became one. Ten years later, I danced with a car. Same thing. Practice, learn, become one. :)

Writing is very similar. Regardless of whether a newbie writer follows rules or not, there is going to be failure. Suckage will ensue for most of us. People will say you have to learn the rules to break them. But what rules? Elmore Leonard’s arbitrary self-serving cannon? Nope. Basic grammar? That’s a start. But what I think really teaches a person to write is experience. We write, we learn. Within that learning curve is failure. Epic failure, sometimes. We learn what works for us, and what does not. We find our own style and our own groves.

It isn't about "never" do this or that. There are awesome writers out who don't follow Leonard's rules. Of course, people will say, but it works for them because they are so good. Right. Great logic. The reason it works for them comes down to experience, confidence in their own style, and natural talent.

The fact is I can go out buy Boy Meets Grill and follow a recipe step by step, but I am never going to do it as well as Bobby Flay. But that is a story for another day.

Until then, go throw yourself out on that ledge, dance with the rose bushes, or not. Fail, succeed, anything can happen. But don’t let someone else’s rules scare you out of experimenting and finding your own voice. That’s just simply NO fun. :)


  1. I like Diana Gabaldon's writing advice: Read, Write, Don't Stop.

  2. Yup, me too! Although if I was going to add one rule for myself it would be to not read so much and so often that I forget to write - I've got to set aside more time for my own stories!