Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Rules of Writing (and Life)

by Gigi

This week, an online mystery writers group to which I belong had a lively discussion about the "rules" of writing.

During the discussion, a wonderful quote by Neil Gaiman was mentioned:

Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

I love this quote for two reasons.

The first, simple reason is that he's absolutely right. If a writer spends too much time listening to the established "rules" of writing, the creative process is stifled. Sure, a writer should learn grammar and study the form of a successful novel, but once the writer understands those things, they can -- and should -- do what works best to tell their stories. (Yes, I the writer made a conscious choice to use "they" in that previous sentence instead of "he," "she," or "he or she.")

The second reason I love that quote is because Neil Gaiman is someone who has used his creative talents to write across genres and across mediums. Fantasy writer, poet, young adult novelist, graphic novelist, playwright for stage, TV, and film -- and probably more things I don't even know about.

By the rules of this industry, branching out into so many areas for creative fulfillment and additionally using only one name is a rare feat. I love that Neil Gaiman has done this not only because I've enjoyed his work, but because the accomplishment inspires me. It's a reminder that it's okay to throw myself into multiple creative pursuits as I wish to do.

I've mentioned before that my identity isn't writer. I consider myself a creative. I'm an artist, a designer, a photographer, and a mystery writer -- in no particular order.

One of the things I don't like about the rules of life is that people are supposed to have an identity that can be summed up in one line on a business card. When I started attending mystery conventions last year, I knew it was time to make myself a business card separate from my day job. The problem was I couldn't decide what to put on it. All of my creative pursuits are part of my identity.

I tried listing everything (seen in the green card at right). Even though it was a clean layout, the friends I showed it to objected. They said it was confusing. That I had to pick one. Since I was going to be mingling with mystery readers and writers, that I should say "writer" or "mystery writer" or some variation on that.

But I didn't want to choose. I wasn't merely being pig-headed. It wouldn't have been true to the package I wanted to present to focus on one facet of something fluid.

The idea that won out was to simply have my branded name at the top, with my main websites and contact information below. There's no mention of what I do. But if you get one of my cards, it's because I've met you, so presumably you know something about me -- but who knows what in particular might have come up. The paper the card is printed on also makes it easy to write notes on the back of the card, if I ever want to jot anything down for someone.

Problem solved, although I'm still unhappy about the fact that I couldn't say everything I wanted to. I truly believe that for me at least, all these creative endeavors are wrapped up together.

Here's a picture of my notebook for the latest novel I'm working on. It involves an Indian pirate from centuries past who's exploits are wrapped up in a present-day mystery, so the notebook didn't feel complete until I slapped that top-hat pirate sticker on the cover. Inside the notebook, the pages are graph paper, so I can easily both write and sketch whatever I want to. Papers are sticking out of it from things I've pasted to the pages. So I suppose it's an idea-book more than a notebook. And that's just the way I like it.


Rachael Herron said...

I love that Gaiman quote, and I also adore your idea for an idea notebook for your book. I use the same old moleskine I've been using for a long time, and just section it off, and it doesn't feel as special as I bet yours does. Inspiring.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Hey! Love the pirate sticker ;-) And somehow you strike me as someone who applies her own rules-- and very wisely, too -- throughout life. Makes perfect sense that you'd do the same with your writing. love it.

Camille Minichino said...

That "they" rule you broke? It's about time we scratched it anyway, along with requiring possessive before a gerund. The rule should be, if it sounds awkward, it's wrong.

My credentials for this post: I'm a reader.

Gigi Pandian said...

Camille -- I love that "awkward phrasing" rule. I never think of myself who's especially good at grammar, but I get it right most of the time just because I go with the "make sure this doesn't read awkwardly" rule.

Rachael and Julie -- I want you two on board with me to break down these barriers since you're both fabulous artists as well as writers :)

Unknown said...

Love the notebook :) Sometimes I'll collage a project but that involves a conscious effort to assemble various pictures and words all at once. I may try a notebook next so I can collect all during the writing process :)

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