Tuesday, May 08, 2012

To Rule or Not to Rule

I own this book, Rules for Writers 5th edition by Diana Hacker.I bought it when I was helping my sister-in-law with editing her college compositions over five years ago.  It is my primary reference book for editing issues.  When I bother to use it.  Which I haven't much for some years except to look up something for a friend or family member who has asked me a grammar, punctuation or usage question.

I don't know how I became the go-to-girl for questions of that sort.  I guess because it was no secret that I was always writing.  And that I'd taken college composition courses.

This is not a review.  It is something else which I'm unsure how to name.  A musing maybe.

I brought Rules with me on several of my visits to Mom's over the last few years and often didn't even use it but last time I left it behind because it was still packed in the boxes from our move in the days just before my trip and wouldn't you know but that I needed it more than once before I got home three months later.

Then sometime last month when I was finally unpacking all my books onto the shelves in my new office I spent several moments thumbing through Rules before putting it on the shelf on my desk along side my Rodale's Synonym  Finder.  There was this niggling voice in my head sounding like it was coming from several rooms away.  "It is time."  And I knew exactly what it meant.

See, some years ago, and it's actually close to two decades ago, I consciously and with purpose set aside all my rule books and gave myself permission or rather commission to write without rules until I subdued the perfectionist demons that choked word flow and prevented so many of my WIP from proceeding beyond a few pages or a few chapters because they constantly insisted I edit or rewrite previously written sections and even as I was writing.

It wasn't until I acquired my first computer in 1987 that I was even able to contemplate such a thing.  But after several years with backspace keys and cut/paste I had already noticed a freer flowing of the words and wondered what would happen if I took the brakes off completely.  So in 1996 I did.  For my personal journal on the computer.  My daily word count ballooned from one or two hundred per day to one to five thousand per day.

Of course much of it was garbage.  But garbage with gems in it that I could pull out and polish for poems, stories, essays and eventually blog posts.  If you were to go into my archives for my first year or two of blogging you would find that my no rules rule held sway even then.  It wasn't until I got my first, unsolicited, review copy in 2006 that I started employing my inner editor more often.

But because I had stifled my inner editor for so long the rules did not immediately come to mind.  I would sense there was a problem with a sentence but couldn't name it so couldn't fix it.  My usual recourse was to delete the sentence entirely and if the information was necessary rewrite it in simple phrases that I could be sure were correct.  This often resulted in the loss of my unique voice though.

Another issue that cropped up was that I could whip our the rough draft of a post in under thirty minutes but then spend three hours rewriting and editing it.  I've know for some time that the solution is to get refamiliarized with the rules again.  But I still fear the power of those perfectionist demons I've always called my harpies.  If I give the rules too much power will I return to the days of a zero to 300 polished but uptight words?  How do I prevent that?

On the other hand, how do I face those hundreds of thousands of words of mess created during the last eight NaNoWriMos?  For the last three years now I've had trouble returning to my fiction files in the months between Novembers because the mess is so overwhelming.

Obviously I've already lost the original value of loosing the rules if I'm no longer producing words of fiction regularly because the existence of what is already produced and its state of chaos is now what is clogging my word flow. The faint voice telling me "It is time."  is acknowledging that I can't go on as is either.  Not if I want to put my material in publishable form.  And my plan to go the self-publish route means that I need to learn how to be both writer of free flowing first draft and re-writer, reviser and line editor.  And I need to be the first without loosing the last three and the last three without loosing the first.

So when I unpacked this book again today as I set up my workstation next to my side of the bed in Mom's room I decided I was going to start tackling the problem.  Somehow.  Still not sure exactly how.

I'll begin by reading and browsing in the book.  And on it's companion website.  Toe tips in the water.

The hope is that having encountered a rule or three in the book I will be alert to the issues it relates to as they crop up in my writing making it easier to avoid them or fix them.

Also I am going to start entering those fiction files to look around with an eye to putting some order to the chaos while at the same time preserving the free flow environment.  That is the key, I think.  Two separate working environments.  Virtual environments that is.  I shouldn't be revising or editing in the same file maybe even with the same ap as the one I free write in.  That might make it easier to switch writer/editor caps.  Playing two different kinds of music as or just prior to working might help as well.

Hmm, I know what music helps the words flow and enhances creativity.  I wonder what music might assist an editor in finding the right frame of mind.  Any suggestions?

At any rate, as I do this I'll keep an eye out for subjects that might make a good post thus making the mechanics of writing, revising, and editing a regular feature on Joystory.

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