Reading About Writing

This year, I’m taking an AP Language class as my English course. Besides it being incredibly dull despite my interest in the subject matter, one of our three* textbooks is something called Writing With Style. Essentially it’s a writer’s thoughts on how to write, as apparently writers often feel the need to tell us how to craft opening paragraphs.

I’ve always been wary of people telling me how to write. Editing is one thing, and so is advice, but only when it is given with the understanding that everyone takes a different approach. Veronica Roth’s style, for example, is most definitely not going to be my own, and so on and so forth. We writers realize this as we discover what kind of pace and routine works for us.

But this book is an altogether different kind of advice from what I’ve previously read. It is a how-to of grammar, a step-by-step play of persuasive writing that’s generally meant to be a one-size-fits-all of nonfiction. It does not apply to novels but to an altogether stricter genre, and so I’ve found that I can forgive it for telling me exactly what to do and when to do it.

Of course, I’m not that kind of writer, and while the book may prove useful for my school career, at first glance it doesn’t seem to be of any help to my novelist side. Still, I resolved to learn something- anything- from this book. After six chapters, I believe I’ve come to a conclusion that will sum up my feelings about Writing With Style from the perspective of someone whose focus is quite a bit more fictional than the author intended.

Here is what I’ve learned from Writing With Style: learn the rules of good writing. Study them. Practice them. Do so until even the most hardened debate opponent is dissolved into a quivering puddle of incoherent half-rebuttals after you’re finished with him. And then, when you’ve done all that, when you’ve memorized what makes a good writer beyond memorization, do one last thing:

Forget it.

My Creative Writing teacher perhaps said it best: we have to learn the rules so that we can ignore the rules. This is the freedom that novels allow us. Within certain boundaries, most of which have to do with grammar, we can do whatever the heck we want. Books such as the one my class is reading serve a purpose outside their intended audiences only so far as to give us a general direction, a few main points we take away that may or may not influence the way we structure our writings.

Main Idea of today’s post: have fun with your writing. Challenge yourself. It’s still important that you are understood clearly, but beyond that, make up your own rules. That’s what fiction is.

Happy reading.

*I don’t even know.