One of the first things you notice when embarking on a creative endeavor are all the little voices in your head. A beginner’s head, especially, is full of advice, and rules, and lists of do’s and dont’s. For a new writer, there’s an entire industry out there, in case you hadn’t noticed, bent on helping you become published and/or more successful.
Now, I’m not saying all these how-to advice books and columns of tricks aren’t helpful. It’s a common saying that when starting out, one first needs to learn the rules, only to know better how to to break them. And that’s fine. I like to think of that as surveying the terrain. But there are so many boulders, and trees, and fences, and hyenas out there, it is sometimes kinda’ tough to see the landscape.
What advice is useful and important, and what advice is simply tying you down, boxing you in, and caging your creative spirit?
And before you think I’m just a cranky rebel (which I am, but not only), I am not talking about little things like spelling and grammar, the very basics of constructing cohesive verbal communication. Those are rules you need. You wouldn’t want to live in a house built by a bunch of dudes who didn’t know how to drive a nail straight into a piece of wood.
You can’t break the rules if you don’t know what they are.
A common observation is that the most brilliant creative insights often occur when you’re not thinking at all – when you’re not worrying about following rules or planning a plot or staring at a dictionary definition. The flash happens while you’re doing something mundane like brushing your teeth or washing dishes (anything with water, apparently) – times when your mind is free and all those little synapses up there can do their natural work, making surprising connections that logic and rules would never have allowed you to make.
Just stop thinking and the answer will come to you. (That, by the way, is a pretty neat trick if you’re trying to remember something, in case you hadn’t already discovered the technique. Calm down your brain. It knows what to do.)
Well, sometimes. If I haven’t loaded my world and my characters with rich detail, no “sit back and wait for the magic moment” scheme is ever going to work. I think they call that preparation. If I have done the homework, then the little voice I hear in my head is often the voice of one of the characters, or something in the environment, or the clash of two issues. That’s what keeps me writing. It’s a superb moment.
Oops, I just mentioned a rule. Preparation.
We will never be completely free of the problem, I guess, knowing exactly how to filter-out which voice to listen to and which voice to ignore. But, chances are the seasoned professionals have discovered the secret. And I’m willing to bet it wasn’t spelled out for them in a commentary like this one.
PS: That said, here are some books on writing
which I found exceptionally inspiring:
David Gerrold. Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Orson Scott Card. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Ray Bradbury. Zen in the Art of Writing.