Repeat After Me…

I spend a lot of time on writer’s forums (probably more than I should). Absolute Write is one of my favorites, as are the NaNoWriMo forums until they die out sometime around the holidays (they don’t actually die out, but they do become a lot less active). I’ve been active on various others at times, too.

I enjoy writing forums, and I enjoy interacting with other writers. Especially since I work at home and have very little interaction with the outside world on a daily basis. But there are some questions that get asked on a recurring basis, with slight variations each time, that kind of bug me (maybe it’s just because I’ve spent way too much time on these forums, and so it all seems a bit repetitive to me).

One such question that I see asked constantly goes along the lines of this: “Can my character do XYZ?” or “If I do X, can I do Y?” Now, questions of logic aside, there is one answer to both of these questions: you can do whatever you want. Let me repeat that:

You can do whatever you want.

You’re the writer. It’s up to you to decide whether you “can” do something within the constructs of your story and the world you’d created. Sure, there are guidelines (some call them “rules”), and the guidelines are good to follow unless you have a reason to break them. But if you have a reason to break them, you can.

Now, the one caveat to all this “do whatever you want to” stuff is that you need to make sure that whatever you’re doing works within the context of your story. And no one can answer that without seeing what you’ve actually written. You know that saying, “It’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission”? That’s doubly true in writing. If you have an idea for how to do something, the only way you’ll know whether it can work or not is to try it.

Remember, too, that not everyone is going to recognize your particular brand of genius (a lot of the time, you won’t recognize it yourself). That’s not to say that everything you do is going to be genius, but once in awhile we all hit on that thing that really is brilliant, even if everything surrounding it is crap. It’s your job to recognize when that happens and nurture it, even if some are telling you you can’t do it that way because it breaks the “rules”.

But seriously, when you’re writing, and it’s your story, you can do whatever the hell you please. Just make sure it works. And how do you know if it works? You try it. No one else can tell you if it will work, because part of making things work is your particular skills and abilities. Neil Gaiman can make things work that a first-time novelist probably couldn’t. Stephen King can write with an omniscient viewpoint while I suck at that. If something doesn’t work, you can edit it out. That’s part of being a writer: rewriting and reworking. If you’re not willing to do that, you’re probably never going to get very far…

I think I’m going to make this my mantra for 2012. Let’s all repeat it again:

You can do whatever you want.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

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One thought on “Repeat After Me…

  1. Cameron, this is great–I loved it! There’s a writer in the group I belong to (IWW) whose mantra is: “The only rule: Writers WRITE. Everything else is a guideline.” I think you two are kindred spirits :)

    It’s so true, isn’t it? Sometimes I think that all those “rules” and formulas and do’s and dont’s are just fear. Like we’re afraid to step off the ledge because it looks like there’s *nothing* there, we’re just gonna fall flat on our faces down in the ravine below, but–if you dare that first step, you discover: there’s plexiglass! All around! Super strong! Before you know it, you’re jumping up and down :)

    Thanks for sharing this–very inspirational.

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