In 2019 I had just devoted this blog to writing after a 18 year history as a forum for post-evangelicals. That “writing” blog didn’t get very far before I became quite ill from Multiple Myeloma and then converted the site (in part) to updates about my battle with cancer, causing that topic to overwhelm the rest. With all of that said, know that there are sill a few people who, like me, are aspirating writers who visit. This posting is for those individuals.
The Problem of Writing Rules
I’ve never been a big rule follower. I colored outside the lines as a kid and sill do. I don’t follow societal rules and are thus read by them sometimes as “odd.” I workd hard at not following stereotypes for anything. I’ve always said that rules are the tool that we use when we lack imagination.
In writing, as I’ve mentioned before, the “rule-makers’ are king, and king-makers. I knew this all along but ran into it head on when I presented the book I’m working on to a paid editor/coach in the genre “thriller.” She knows the industry and made it clear that it would be impossible for me to present my new novel to agents as a thriller, not to mention major publishers, because I did not follow the thriller rules.
Now, when I’m talking about rules, I’m not talking about the basic rules of grammar, which I’ve been known to violate. No, good grammar, when to use commas, semi-colons, or the em-dash, are rules that we must obey (unfortunately) to have a chance. But the new rules are really formulas devised by some un-imaginative people somewhere, that determines if the book would be financially successful. They look at the big money makers, like James Patterson’s series (which I personally find his writing horrible, but appeals to the American taste of action without intelligence, novels now following the plots of Bruce Willis movies) and create rules such as, each chapter must end with a hook, only third person point of view, how man adjectives you can use, how many exclamation points you can use, one hero must die, and the list goes on and on. If you were to violate any of these rules, it is hard to get anyone to look at it. By the way, I attended a workshop taught by James Patterson and it was all about sticking to the formula.
My solution was to re-write my novel for the 20th-something time, forgoing any ambitions of marketing it as a thriller but now as a “Mainstream Literary-Suspense” which allows more creativity and allows you to use your brain and not just sewing a bunch of cliches together with conjunctions. Right now I’m re-writing it once again because I had gone over the “allowable word count” unwritten rule among publishers. The manuscript was ready but the word count was nearing 150K. Agents say that they will not promote a book with more than 130K words. To give you a refence of extremes, War and Peace has about 575k words.
As I’ve shared before, I am saddened by how our short, internet-based, attention spans are redefining writing. Some in the field say that in the near future computers will write our books. I want to cry here.
With that very long introduction, I wanted to share an interview (below) that I heard on NPR this morning. Lan Samantha Chang’s new book, The Family Cho, is hitting the markets. I’ve read some of her previous works and they are quite good. She is not an aspiring writing anymore than Stephen Curry is an aspiring basket ball player. Besides being a professor of creative writing, she leads the very prestigious “Iowa Writer’s Workshop.”
If you listen to her interview, you will see her also pushing back on the technocratic trend in writing of making it about the rules.