There are tons of writing books out there and they all promise to fix, improve, enlighten, and empower you to write better, faster, more seriously, funnier, scarier, wilder. Whatever you want to do, there’s a book out there to teach you how to do it. I know because I’ve read most of them.
Don’t believe me? Here, let me list a few:
- On Writing by Stephen King
- The CT Method of Revision and Editing by David B. Schlosser
- The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
- Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne
- Outlining Your Novel by K. M. Weiland
- Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris
- Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller
- Slow Your Prose by James W. Lewis
That’s a drop in a bucket. And I’m not saying that I haven’t learned from all these books. I have. The problem with them is that they are saying that their way will solve all your writing woes. A few will say, “This is the way I do it, your mileage may vary,” but honestly, if they’ve written a book, it’s because they feel like they they have the answer to the questions that have been burning inside you.
There are techniques in these books that are useful. Learning how to outline effectively is a good skill to know, especially if you are a planner. Knowing how to slow your prose is great if you constantly rush and your readers give you feedback like, “I don’t feel like I got to know character X,” or “I’m not getting a good picture of the setting. I want more details.”
All these things are good to learn but you need to understand that no matter how authoritative these how-to books are they are not at all as smart as you are when it comes to your writing.
Go ahead, protest. I’ll wait.
Okay. Everyone needs to learn and grow. Rules are helpful guidelines and learning how to spell and use proper grammar can be beneficial to your writing. But please, please don’t let that stifle your inner wisdom. You know your writing best. You know your story best. No matter how kick ass Stephen King is, he knows nothing at all about your writing. He could tell you not to use adverbs or that you are too wordy or too sparse with your descriptions and he might be right, but he has no way of knowing the tune of the story that’s singing inside you.
If you are writing a romantic horror novel and you read a “helpful” how-to book that declares, “the romantic horror novel is a putrid waste of time,” will you give up on it? Will you change your writing because of that book? If you write in short, choppy sentences and another how-to book says that your kind of sentence is indicative of mental patients, will you alter how you write?
The point is, they are opinions. Some are more cogent than others. Some have kick ass advice but in the end you have to come back to the writer you are and the truths that are a part of who you are. Don’t let the rules dictate to you. Let them guide you as long as they are helpful and discard them when they no longer feel right.
And, as far as writing like Hemingway, I have a fool-proof method. Are you ready?
Stand up while you write.
See? Following other writers will lead you to silliness. Trust yourself and you can’t go wrong.