The English language has built over time and has rules of construction; just as any other builder has to follow a code, the writer should be able to don their hard hat and survey their handiwork. Kick the foundations and see if it wobbles.
In order to do this effectively the writer needs a good and up to date understanding of the rules. I recommend a yearly tune-up with a good grammar.
Of course, there are times when the correct use of grammar is simply incorrect, such as when we represent everyday speech.
Speech follows a whole different set of social rules,
Ya get me blud?
No one said you have to follow the rules all the time but it’s more fun to break them what you know are there.
” In the real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.”
Everybody has dark days. We all have times when we question ourselves and our world. We strive for more and we feel that life is holding out on the good stuff, keeping it tantalisingly out of reach; the bunch of grapes that grace an Aesop’s fable.
It is a cruel trick of life that in finding the darkness we feel alone. We are never alone. If we could muster the strength to reach out a hand into the night we would find that we are standing shoulder to shoulder like a pottery army, facing the same questions and the same fears. The darkness is a universal experience. So is the light.
Writers have a trick for dealing with the darkness. We pick the bones. We pick them clean. You see, nothing of our experience is ever lost. Everything is learning. Everything is growing. We take experience and in the darkness we form words, restless over the surface of the waters until one day…
Let there be Light.
So, if you are standing in the darkness be assured that you are surrounded by companions and in the darkness we grow.
I have found a surprising reluctance in many of my friends and colleagues to visit the pen-smiths of the past. I agree that many of the works written in the 19th century are so far removed from modern journalistic style that they seem to represent a different species rather than a different time. The 20th century brings long descriptive passages and worthiness doesn’t it? Don’t ever assume that you know a writer’s work on reputation alone. Dickens!
If you make assumptions about literature then you run the risk of missing out on those writers and passages of prose that sing with you. Sometimes you find literary joy in the strangest of places.
My personal discovery this year was Proust. I’m not a literary snob, I read everything including shampoo bottles and cereal packets but I had assumed that Proust was probably not for me.
( Assumptions, pah!)
I approached the first tome of “La recherche du temps perdu ” in trepidation.
I found literary description that you could bathe in. Proust sings with me.
Now, not everyone you read will click with you. That isn’t a deficiency in their writing or in your understanding, that is just the joy of difference. Go out into the world and find those writers who ” Sing with you “. and you will gain more than you ever thought possible.
Oh, and the occasional Dead White Male will be a Woman.
Being a writer is a strange and unusual compulsion.
On the other hand it makes life very interesting.
I don’t think there are many other occupations which begin the day with research into diving equipment, loiter around the methods of disposing of a body, and end with a copy piece about Madeira cake.
The hours are often long and the pay is poor. I recommend that for the first few years of throwing words at the world you forget all about working out your hourly rate. On the other hand there is something to be said for beginning the day in joy and completing it in satisfaction. You might not be rich as a writer but if writing is your compulsion then as long as you are allowed to wallow in the words you stand a good chance of being happy.
Consider the blank page before you. Does it make you anxious?
Are you feeling time pressure?
Do you realise that you are god?
In the universe of this page, you rule. Dive to the depths of the ocean. Visit other galaxies. Live the life of a soccer mom. Drive the despair of a serial killer. Paint the colours of the forest. Write the words you can never say. Invent a community. Change history. Delete time and re-arrange it.
I am currently re-reading The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury.
It’s a book that I recommend to every writer.
It is a collection of masterful short stories held together by an eerie overarching narrative. It’s by turns engaging and disturbing. Something for everyone.
” The sun was gone. Now the first stars were shining and the moon had brightened the fields of grass and wheat. Still the Illustrated man’s pictures glowed like charcoals in the half light, like scattered rubies and emeralds, with Rouault colours and Picasso colours and long pressed out El Greco bodies.
“So people fire me when my pictures move. They don’t like it when violent things happen in my illustrations…”
I’m thinking about the writer and their subconscious.
The funny thing is that everyone has one and we pay it very little attention until it plays up. A little like the hazard warning light on the car.
Are you and your subconscious on speaking terms? If you aren’t then you will struggle to write and eventually grind to a page fearing halt.
Writer’s Block anyone?
So, how do I keep my subconscious happy?
(a) Read – Good stuff in, good stuff out.
(b) Resolve any emotional issues where possible. Forgive the guy next door for throwing the hedge clippings over the fence, forgive your mother for that awkward conversation with her best friend’s daughter, forgive yourself for Chocolate Tuesday.
I am not talking about the huge stuff that needs counselling and a 50 minute hour but life’s irritations. Just let them go. It’s not worth it.
The bird that pooped on your car is feeling better because it pooped and not worse because you are cross about it.
(c) Listen to yourself. If you are struggling to write then there may be an issue with what you are writing. Are you trying to make a character behave in a way that he/she wouldn’t.
(d) Sometimes the subconscious calls a time out because it has something else it wants to say. Leave the piece you are writing and work on a short story. Maybe write a poem or a song. When your subconscious has had its say it will let you work on your current piece.
(e) You are playing Deadline Chicken. Trust me, whichever of you blinks first it won’t be pretty.
Tell yourself that you are not writing the piece. This is not writing the piece, this is just making a list of things I would put into it if I was writing it…which I’m not.
Once you have a basic outline expand it until you have a framework. Then write a little piece for each element of the framework.
Look. Almost a piece of work but not a piece of work.
You should now be able to convince yourself that writing the copy is child’s play. It’s nearly done look.
(f) Problems pass. You won’t always struggle. Everyone struggles. Everyone has blank days and prolific days. People who succeed at writing work on the bad days and don’t sweat it.
It’s a funny old word. One that makes some people smile and other people cry.
Literary marmite (vegemite).
I often get told that
“It’s okay for you but I can’t get my head around it.”
Well the bad thing about grammar is that there are a lot of rules. The good thing about grammar is that there are a lot of rules.
If you come across a rule that you don’t understand does it occur to you that you have come across a teacher who doesn’t know how to explain it to you?
Or do you give up?
Heck lady/Mister…buy a different book! Go to a different class. Look at a different tutorial online. You do realise that teachers aren’t one size fits all?
Every person works differently, thinks differently, reasons differently and breaks down their understanding of grammar differently.
Oh yes, the rules stay the same but the teaching?
Not so much.
Don’t be so quick to let that rattler go.
You can understand it.
Approach it from another direction.