No one can write your story like you can
This is the first thing. It’s your unique voice, your one-of-a-kind way of telling a story, that makes you a writer. No one can tell your story better than you can, and if you have to break a few rules to tell it the way only you can tell it, then more power to you.
Never let anyone’s voice or wisdom have more authority in your mind, than your own. That’s what it’s there for.
To break rules, you should first know what they are
So yes, break rules, but it can be really helpful to learn them first. There are rules in writing for a reason, after all. One simple example of how important those rules are, is how a comma can save your grandma’s life.
“I’m hungry. I want to eat, Grandma.”
“I’m hungry. I want to eat Grandma.”
Huge difference there, right? But if you don’t know the rules about commas, or how they change the meaning of the sentence in the eyes of its readers, you wouldn’t get the joke, right? [bctt tweet=”Full disclosure; I put in a comma every time I pause to think. Thank goodness for editors. ” username=”@MaggieShayne”]
Or how about this one. What is wrong with the following paragraph?
John had never been so afraid in his life. He stood in the dark, empty room, and felt the goosebumps rising on his arms. His pupils had dilated to the size of grapes. They were so big it looked as if black holes had opened up in his eyes.
Hint: It has to do with the point of view, which in this case is limited third person, and the fact that John is not standing in front of a mirror.
So yes, it’s helpful to learn the rules. And then write the way you want to anyway.
The best way to learn the rules of writing is by reading
When I first realized I was meant to be a storyteller, I went straight to the library. I got books on touch typing, and books on storytelling, and I devoured them. I joined the Writers’ Digest Bookclub just to get the 5 or 7 or however many free books you get for joining and promising to buy 3 more over the next year. That’s the only way I could afford them. I would buy the required books, and it would take the full year, because we were poor. But then I’d resign the club, wait a month, and then join again for 7 more freebies.
I am not college educated. I am self-educated. (Where there’s a will, there’s a way.)
But even more important to me than all those books on how-to write novels, were the novels themselves. I read and read and read, and that reading provided the greatest education of my career. Once I learned from the non-fiction books what point of view was, for example, I could see how it was used in the hands of the novelists I most loved. Stephen King. Anne Rice. Anne Stuart. Lorna Tedder. Karen Robards. Sandra Brown. Annette Lamb. Dave Barry. Louis L’Amour. Ayn Rand. I soaked up knowledge from novels like a Brawny paper towel soaks up spills! [bctt tweet=”It’s Law of Attraction in action. If you want to become a great novelist, read great novels.” username=”@MaggieShayne”]
The 2nd best way to learn the rules: a great critique group
Early on, I made friends with wanna-be women writers. They became the best friends of my life. It’s important to hang out with people who are trying to do the same things you’re trying to do, I think. We would meet once a month, and take turns reading a chapter or so of our work in progress out loud. Then we’d offer each other our thoughts, our praise, our suggestions. This became my very own critique group. I trust these women as I trust my own family.
I learned more about writing and storytelling from my critique group than I have ever learned anywhere else. And interestingly, I learned far more from listening to others read their stories, than I did from their comments about my own. You can hear what works and what doesn’t far easier in other peoples’ work than in your own. That’s because in your own, you already know what you’re trying to say. In other peoples’ work, you don’t know what they’re saying, except by the way they write it. It either conveys to you what they intended, or it doesn’t.
As you see things that don’t work in your friend’s prose, and help her figure out how she might say better, you then take that new knowledge home and apply it to your own work. Because what you were really telling your critique partner is how it would work better for you. And how it works for you, is only truly important in your own project. Sure, she might take your suggestion, or she might not, or, as is most often the case, she’ll fix the problem in her own unique way. With her own unique voice.
I strongly recommend having a group of strong writers as friends. They don’t have to be successful. None of us were published when we first started meeting. Now, many of us are. [bctt tweet=”Other writers are a writer’s best friends.” username=”@MaggieShayne”]
Writing workshops are the 3rd best place to learn the rules
So now we come to seminars, lectures, workshops, talks, tapes, podcasts, videos. They can be brilliant. They can also be bogus. You just have to take other authors’ words with a very large grain of salt. Listen with a critical ear. When they say something that makes you want to stand up and walk out (or hit the stop button) you know that’s just not the way it works for you, and it will not be something that will help your storytelling at all, even if every other student in the room is nodding in enthusiastic agreement. [bctt tweet=”No matter what the experts say, the final word about your words always lies with you.” username=”@MaggieShayne”]
Sometimes, though, the pro at the front of the room or on your computer screen, says something that makes you bop yourself on the head like the guy in the proverbial V8 commercial and stand up and shout “Eureka! That’s IT!” Well, when you feel like that, that’s a bit of wisdom you probably want to add to your personal toolbox. You’ll keep it, you’ll tweak it to suit you, and you’ll use it in your own unique way.
Are we seeing a pattern here? As is always the case, your feelings are your inner GPS. Your feelings are going to tell you what writing advice is perfect for you, and what is not. Trust your gut.
Now, most of what you hear in workshops and seminars is going to fall somewhere in between those two extremes. Some of the tips and insights might come in handy at some point, in some future project. Some of it might just make you think about how you could tweak that kernel of wisdom to make it more suited to your unique and brilliant voice.
Either way, constantly return to Point Number One: No one can write your story like you can.
And now the pitch
I’ve been delivering writing workshops since the beginning of my career, (that’s a l-o-n-g time) to groups including RWA’s annual national convention and many smaller RWA chapters around the country.
I broadcast Facebook LIVE video-posts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10 am eastern time.
Mondays: The Storytellers Masterclass, writing workshops for storytellers.
Wednesdays: The Law of Attraction (LOA) Masterclass, LOA workshops for improving your life.
Fridays: Booktalk, for a little self promotion. Because, bills. 😬
The Storytellers and LOA Masterclass posts will remain up on my Facebook page for a full week after they’re broadcast. That’s where you can view them free.
After the week is up, they come down. I produce them into a nicer presentation with graphics and music and I create pdf files as companion downloads, and add them to my permanent workshop collection.
In the coming weeks, these finalized workshops will be available for purchase here on the site, a la carte. You’ll be able to pick the ones you’re interested in, without having to buy them all.
The price will be as low as I can make it.
Nothing Will Change
The Bliss Blog will remain just as it is, with posts every Sunday helping you apply LOA principals to make your life and business thrive. The only difference will be a link in the sidebar for the workshop pages.
So that’s it. I hope you’ll join me for some of the Facebook LIVE broadcasts, so you can get a taste of the workshops for free.
And I’ll see you right here next week for another post on how to make your life and business thrive!
Until next time, choose joy!
Monday, August 1st 10 a.m. eastern on Mornings with Maggie, Storytellers Masterclass: Promoting with Freebies and More