Writing is hard. There are so many rules to follow, so much that could go wrong, so much that needs to be there and doesn’t need to be there. Spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure. Verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, plural nouns, conjunctions. It all has to be right.
There is a difference between a mistake and a creative decision. What makes a mistake, a mistake? The laws of English. That’s it, everything you’ve learned in English class (or, everything that was taught in English class, whether you learn it not is up to you).
What is a creative decision?
Has anyone ever pointed out something “wrong” in a piece of your writing and you said, “But that’s what I do“? And you know that this is not so much a mistake, but more of a weird thing that might not look or sound right?
That is a creative decision.
For example: I use end tags (he/she said, and so on). Not for every line, but quite often. This may not look right or feel right, but there’s nothing wrong with it (in moderation).
That’s what I do.
I was reading a short story the other day, Cathedral by Raymond Carver, and this passage caught my eye:
“I don’t have any blind friends,” I said.
“You don’t have any friends,” she said. “Period. Besides,” she said, “goddamn it, his wife’s just died! Don’t you understand that? The man’s lost his wife!”
I didn’t answer. She’d told me a little about the blind man’s wife. Her name was Beulah. Beulah! That’s a name for a colored woman.
“Was his wife a Negro?” I asked.
“Are you crazy?” my wife said. “Have you just flipped or something?” She picked up a potato. I saw it hit the floor, then roll under the stove. “What’s wrong with you?” she said. “Are you drunk?”
“I’m just asking,” I said.
No wonder I write how I do. This is the kind of stuff I read. Yes, said is used an awful lot, but that was the writing back in 1983. And I love it! I get it, I’m drawn to it. No, this isn’t 1983, but people are still reading this after 30 years. Carver made a creative decision, and he stuck with it.
So, what’s the most important thing I will always forget?
Write for yourself.
It’s so easy to read articles and blog posts and websites with the, “Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make” and, “5 Words Every Writer Should Stop Using” or, “100 Ways To Say ‘The Wind Is Blowing’-Because ‘The Wind Is Blowing’ Is Boring. In Fact, Don’t Even Leave That In There, No One Needs To Know That.” And then, after you’ve read all of this, you might say, “Well, I make these mistakes, and I use these words, and the wind does blow in my story. I’m a terrible writer. My characters aren’t interesting, my sentence structure sucks, I should just stop.” Yes, you should just stop… Stop comparing your creative decisions to people’s opinions!
Lean, grow, try different things, but always remember to stay true to your style. Throw (some) rules out the window! Make creative decisions and stick by them. Stick by yourself. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of starting a sentence with And (I know I don’t). End a sentence with a proposition. Use passive tense every once in a while!
Just, please, stay true to yourself, write for yourself, and have fun.