I read a lot of writing blogs, and craft books, and hope that I am on my way to becoming a good writer. However this week I came across a blog that popped my fragile bubble of self-confidence and made me really doubt myself and my writing dream.
The subject of this blog? The first plot point.
I know. Not exactly controversial stuff. In fact it even made sense on a lot of levels. But the tone of the article left me feeling that I needed to nail this, or my story was doomed to fail.
As a rule I’m fairly good at sifting through material and taking what helps and discarding the rest, but for some reason this article hit a nerve. Maybe it was the language used, or the fact that this person seems to have a solid platform, or maybe I was just a bit vulnerable at the time I read it. Whatever the case, my story didn’t seem to fit the model and doubt set in.
Story arcs, character arcs, active voice, show don’t tell, avoid cliches, take care with adverbs, black spots, grammar gremlins, tighten, tighten, tighten…
All this great advice was swamping my poor little first draft.
Fortunately, I’m growing my thick writerly hide and it didn’t take long for me to put things back in perspective. I believe in my story and it will either work or it won’t. But if I give up on it, I’ll never know.
While I was thinking on this I happened to catch a clip of Freddy Mercury on the telly saying:
I thought, I’m going to do exactly as I please.
And it hit me. People like Freddy Mercury don’t worry about what people think, or how it should be done, they just follow their art. For better or worse, to great heights or spectacular lows; they believe in themselves and their vision.
J. K. Rowling was told Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was too long for a children’s book; Stephenie Meyer didn’t set out to write a YA novel; and E.L. James self-published. And when their books went viral everyone started asking why. They backed their stories and refused to be bound by the rules.
As I was drafting this blog Rachelle Gardner’s new blog-post landed in my inbox. Entitled “The Writing Rules Are Just Tools“, it couldn’t have been more encouraging. She writes:
But it’s easy to get too caught up in the rules and get frustrated at trying so hard to follow them that you find your creativity stunted. In addition, some writers are actively resentful about the rules, feeling like the Writing Establishment is trying to keep everyone in a little box and not allow writers’ artistic visions to shine through.
How timely was that? And she goes on to encourage us to keep our perspective on our work and what we’re trying to achieve – the best story we can write:
The rules are just TOOLS to help you write effectively. The goal in writing is to engage your reader, draw them in, make them want to keep turning the pages, whether you’re telling them a story or giving them information. So writing rules are simply the means of helping you do that.
The only time “rules” ever come into play is when you or your editor recognizes that something’s not working. Maybe the book is getting boring, the characters don’t feel believable, the arguments in your nonfiction work are falling flat, the reader isn’t engaged. It’s pretty easy to identify what’s wrong. However, figuring out how to fix it—that’s where the rules come in. Rules are a means of identifying how to fix a problem so that the reader remains engaged.
The rules aren’t more important than the story. But they are useful.
Her blog also reminded me, a first draft isn’t the place for over-analysing. A quick glance back made me realise my characters were arcing all on their own, and I had been using many of the tools instinctively, rather than through any calculated effort.
So after all of that I’m still not sure where that first plot point is, but I’m not going to waste time worrying about it. There will be plenty of time for that when the first draft is finished!
How about you? Do you follow your instincts, or do you have a more structured approach to ticking the writing boxes? How do you deal with the writing wobbles?