Writing As Yourself
By Jeffrey Wilson, author of The Donors
Take any writing class, attend any writer’s conference, or read any article on creative writing and you are sure to find another pearl to add to your list of rules. As the new writer sits in front of her or his laptop, focused like a laser beam on showing and not telling and maintaining a consistent POV, the “Dos” and “Don’ts” circle around like a pack of hungry wolves, waiting for a chance to attack and tear their new prose to pieces. The litany of rules and the fear of breaking them can so consume the new writer that he or she becomes paralyzed, unable to proceed or perhaps remember what the hell they wanted to write or even why.
I’m not saying that rules are bad—far from it. But I do know that some great writers quite clearly follow their own set of rules and often break the unbreakable rules we are all taught. We can roll our eyes at the unprofessional way in which they disregard these rigid tenets, but often we are doing it from our small apartment, forgetting that our unprofessional hack is cashing a six figure advance and readers are literally devouring their words. You see, it is not that these writers don’t have rules—they simply found their own set of rules, ones that work for them in their style and voice. They follow their rules and they write, not as their English professor or even as their favorite writer does, but as themselves. They set themselves apart because everyone writes like they are taught, but only you can write like you do.
Instead of getting caught up in the rules learned from the myriad of how-to sources, and the risk of getting paralyzed into permanent writer’s block from the burden of carrying those rules around, the up-and-coming writer should instead view these rules as very useful guidelines. Think about them and how they impact your work. Is this a guideline which will tighten up your prose and strengthen your voice, or is compliance with the rule instead holding you back from some creative premise you are developing? In other words, will variation from the tenet you are considering make your work better or worse? Perhaps this introspection is best left for the editing and re-write phase. If you are like me, once a story gets hold it is literally bursting to get out, and slowing down to introspect about voice and POV risks losing the power of the tale that has possessed you. For me, I need to get the damn thing out and onto paper (or computer screen these days) before I go chopping around with my rule-axe. Of course I do my best to get it out in the best form I can, but the “Hmmm, did I (or should I)” phase is best done later on the re-write and edits. The point is, apply those rules—I mean guidelines—to your story, not the one your college professor or the writer of the how to article might have written.
I think another place we can lose our own voice is in our emulation of others. It is rare to find a successful writer that doesn’t read voraciously and coming up we all had writer’s who inspired us. They did that by entertaining us and drawing us into their incredible stories, and it is inevitable that the authors of these works become our silent mentors. We will try, on some level, consciously or unconsciously to emulate these writers we admire, and that is okay to a point. If you love character driven work, as I do, then you will try and develop your work in those broad strokes and it will likely help you. The danger lies in trying too hard to reproduce too closely the style and voice of your favorite authors. No matter how talented a writer is and how intensely he studies the work of Stephen King, he will never, ever write King as well as King can. He also shouldn’t want to try. King is the best King we will ever have, but he can’t write Koontz as well as Koontz can. So even though you can never write exactly like Stephen King, nor can he ever write exactly like you. The goal should be to learn the lessons from authors we admire and then incorporate them into our own style and voice, because no one can write Jeffrey Wilson like I can and no one can write you to perfection but you.
Educate yourself about the accepted rules of fiction, and most definitely take lessons from the writer’s whose work inspires you. But then open your lap top and, above all, write like only you can.
Jeffrey Wilson has worked as an actor, a firefighter, a paramedic, a jet pilot, a diving instructor, a Naval Officer, and a Vascular and Trauma Surgeon. He also served two tours in Iraq as a combat surgeon with both the Marines and with a Joint Special Operations Task Force.
In addition to his debut novel, The Traiteur’s Ring, which was released in 2011, Wilson has written dozens of short stories, including “Calling Home,” which was published in BuzzyMag and “The Writer,” which was included in the Warped Words 2011: 90 Minutes to Live anthology.
Jeffrey and his wife, Wendy, are Virginia natives who, with children Emma, Jack, and Connor, call Southwest Florida home. When not working as a surgeon or chasing his three kids, he is hard at work on his next novel.
Wilson’s next novel, Fade to Black, is tentatively slated for a 2013 release.
Visit Jeffrey Wilson online at: www.jeffreywilsonfiction.com