One thing that I’ve heard writers say a lot that I can both relate to–and somehow not understand at the same time–is “I don’t know how to <blank>.” It is almost always a reason why they can’t start their story now or move forward in regard to trying to find an agent or self-publish…it’s often (without the writer knowing) an excuse to not achieve a goal. Maybe it’s driven by fear, I’m not sure. But using ignorance as an excuse is pretty common. A lot of us writers feel that if we can’t make something absolutely perfect, it has no value.
Now, as I type this, I think it might be a fear of what people might say about them. No one likes to be ridiculed.
I wanted to write about the value of sometimes not knowing what you are doing when it comes to writing.
At the heart of every great story, book, or screenplay is a darn good storyteller doing the work. A good story is the most important part to any of these things–not how technically perfect a writer is in executing it.
Sometimes, it is best to not know what is considered the “right” way to do things. Nothing great was ever achieved by working within the confines of (sometimes) arbitrary rules. Think of books like The Color Purple, Push, Their Eyes Were Watching God, or a new favorite of mine: Moonrise. All of these books do not follow “traditional” rules for structure, grammar, or punctuation–they defy what trained writers are told to do. Two are classic American Literature by women of color, one is a modern classic of American Literature by a queer woman of color, and the last one is a book in verse by a female Irish author.
Some people might say: “Well, Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker were women of color born in the 1800s and mid-1900s and probably didn’t receive proper education on how to write, so that doesn’t count!” Wrong. Alice Walker went to Spellman College, Zora Neale Hurston went to Barnard College and Columbia University. Both were and are accomplished women in academics. Sapphire, the author of Push went to City College of San Francisco, City College of New York, and eventually received an MFA from Brooklyn College. Sarah Crossan went to Warwick University. None of them had the excuse of ignorance for how they chose to write their books. Yet…they went against the grain.
So, even highly educated people know the value of going against the grain–choosing a nontraditional style when writing certain stories.
So…why can’t you choose a style that feels natural to you? Why can’t you create a new way of structuring your story? Why not try to do something different and possibly great? Sure, seek education and learn as much as you can, but don’t not start because you don’t know how everyone else is supposed to do things.
And don’t let your eventual education completely bias you against trying new things, regardless of what people say you are supposed to do.
Imagine you are someone who is writing stories in a language that is not your primary–or maybe even your secondary–language. Your grammar and spelling might be a little “wonky” when you start. The way you structure sentences and put words together might seem odd to native speakers of the language. Did you ever consider that it might read as more poetic than what a native speaker might write?
Even if it doesn’t–you can ask a native speaker to help you or hire an editor if you are able. There is no reason not to start. Especially when you might stumble across a way of saying things that people who write with dogged rules might not.
Dare to imagine that there are no rules other than those the story itself creates. When you’re telling the story of your characters, what feels right in conveying it? Dare to not make ignorance an excuse but a diving board into the world of the written word. Let it drive you to begin your story, continue your education, and to prove that rules do not always have to be followed. Allow it to inspire you to inspire others to be unabashedly unafraid of chasing their dreams and goals.
All of our lives are built on a mountain of stories dying to be told. Don’t let the excuse of ignorance keep you from telling them.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,