Writing advice: ignoring the rules, and craft is crap

There’s something scarily synchronous about author and editor blogs; emergent patterns and concurrences just leap out sometimes, leaving me wondering if perhaps the voices are right, and that the rest of the world really is conspiring behind my back.

Exhibit A: newly recruited Futurismic co-blogger and all-round good guy Jeremiah Tolbert has a post that lists ten rules of writing, and why you should break them. This one was particularly heartening for me:

5. Don’t blog so much. Write more.

Blog as much as you want. Just don’t expect anyone to read it. If you had to be doing something besides blogging, I don’t think it should be writing more fiction. You should be reading more. Read the instruction manual to your blender. Read cereal boxes. Read trashy romance novels, and read the classics. Read 400 blogs and news websites. Write when you have something to say, and a new way to say it. Writing more is going to help you especially when you are starting out, but after a certain point, you’re bordering on hypergraphia, and that’s a mental illness, sorry, not a career. In general, stop beating yourself up about how much you do or don’t write. Live your god damn life, and the writing will come. Or it won’t. Nobody will care but you.

Of course, it’s only heartening for me because it’s a straw to clutch at. Jeremiah is assuming you actually do some proper writing as well as blogging. In recent months, that has not been the case in this household …

Exhibit B: Nick Mamatas reponds to Scalzi’s post about advising teenage aspiring writers by bludgeoning the concept of craft. But see how the synchronicity with Jeremiah’s post creeps in here:

Anyway, homos, craft is a matter of artisanship, and artisanship is a matter of mastering a relatively small tool kit in order to solve a number of practical problems. These practical problems also allow for aesthetic flourishes to be added. You can thus have a basket with an interesting weave, for example, but you can’t have the weave by itself, without the basket.

Writing, by way of contrast, is a matter of deploying a relatively small number of tools from a toolkit of infinite size in order to solve problems that don’t exist until they are solved through the use of the tool. That’s art, baby. This is what people are trying to say when they trot out that old canard about learning all the rules, and the forgetting them. They mean “Some tools are far more commonly used than others. It’s generally helpful to start using some set of tools first, then you can search The Infinite Toolbox for others, once you’ve figured out what a handle is and what part of a widget to plug into the wookedtyclicket.”

See what I mean? Mixed messages. I’m sure they’re both right, and in light of this I’m going to formulate my own rule of fiction writing in the engineering idiom that makes the most sense to my mind:

Paul Raven’s First Rule of Fiction Writing

“Reading the advice of other writers and publishing industry professionals is useful to a degree directly proportional to the amount of fiction writing the reader of the advice actually achieves.”

(Or, for lay-persons, “stop worrying about it until you have something to worry about.”)

2 thoughts on “Writing advice: ignoring the rules, and craft is crap”

  1. As i’ve always said to anyone that will listen, the wider the range of tools you have at your disposal the less you’ll actually do with them, i.e. if i got myself a huge Moog modular synth i could write even less music but in an infinitely more complex way. đŸ™‚

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