Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Writer Wednesday: Steering by the Stars

The Little Black Book of Writers' Wisdom
Edited by Steven D. Price
I got a lovely gift from my sister for my birthday last year. It's a small black book titled "The Little Black Book of Writers' Wisdom," edited by Steven D. Price, 2013.

For a few months it sat on my bedside table collecting dust. But one day, perhaps seeking inspiration to crank up the gears of my rusty writing, I opened the volume and began to read.

I love books like this. It's made up of short quotes, all of them meaty and packed with resonance. I found myself reading a quote and then thinking on it for a time - about whether I found it true for me and how the idea may have played out in my writing life.

Then I got the brain burst to share them with you and ask you to comment on them as well. Thus was born the idea for a new segment for Writer Wednesday on my blog.

There are so many pearls of wisdom in this book that we can mine it for months. I pondered where to begin? I decided to let the fates choose. I opened the book, closed my eyes, and pointed my finger.

Here then is the quote that fate chose for us this week:

"There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion." - E.B. WHITE

I love that last bit - "disturbingly in motion."

The more I write, the more I feel that this quote is true. When I first began writing, I approached it much the way I approached learning the law back in law school. I tracked down books about it, read blog posts and articles, and sought out writers with more experience than me to teach me the "rules" of the game.

To be sure, there are "rules" when it comes to writing. Pick up an unedited manuscript filled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors and you quickly see why rules matter.

But grammarians rarely (if ever) make for good writers. And a child can win the national spelling bee but have nary a glimmer of creative genius.

Then there are the "you should never do this" rules and the "always do that" rules that, for me anyway, seem to beg me to break them. I see "rules" on writer blogs and hear them in workshops all the time. There are so many "rules" for how to write a first paragraph that if I began to worry over them I suspect I'd never writer another paragraph again.

The more I write, the more I find the stars in motion. The more I put pen to page, the less sure I am of the course I'm taking. In fact, I'm not sure I'm steering by stars at all. At times it feels more like I'm on a tiny raft in the middle of the ocean on a moonless night, the stars invisible behind a thick blanket of clouds.

Oh, and it's storming.

What about you? Do you relate to this quote? Do you ever feel lost at sea in your writing? Or do you disagree with E.B. White? Do you think there are infallible rules that when followed, you produce writing worth reading?

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