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Michelle's Musings

Even Schmucks Have an Inner Voice


Guidelines for good writing are found in numerous how-to books and blogs, but not all are steadfast. In fact, the more rules I come across, the more I realize how much heterogeneity exists. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to crafting the ultimate masterpiece. And so, I'm on the cusp of going a little rogue on methods and techniques and steering more toward feel and intuition. While you and I know that flying by the seat of one's pants does not guarantee success, I need to free myself from mechanistic self-edits that mire me in stagnation to the detriment of my creativity. In the spirit of simplicity, therefore, I'm going to ease up on myself a bit by narrowing my tricks of the trade to four goals.


I just alluded to the first goal, which is to spew your thoughts and ideas onto the page without concern for the editorial process. Call it brainstorming or free-association; the point is to throw the rules of writing out the window and get something down on paper without regard to the minutia of self-correction. If you're a bit anal like I am, though, this task is easier said than done. If correct-as-you-go works for you, by all means, keep at it. But I've got to do a better job of staying out of the quicksand quagmire of never-ending rumination.


The next goal is a more established dictum. I've written a monthly column for more than a decade in which I profile members of one of the writers groups to which I belong. I always ask my subjects for writerly advice to provide to others. Universally, they recommend reading as much as possible, preferably in your genre of choice, and writing everyday no matter how few words are produced. I strive to adhere to these principles, though I've been known to fall off the wagon from time to time.


Next, it's critical to have fresh eyes examine your work for those not-so-subtle errors you've become too myopic to see. Scientific studies document how we subconsciously insert words and letters while reading because our mind's eye tells us what we expect to see or read. If you're dyslexic, this is particularly problematic. Therefore, it's crucial to have someone else read your work to find errors you're unable to see. At the very least, set the work aside for several days (or longer) before attempting to reread it yourself.


Fourth, get comfortable with rejection. When I see poorly written and seemingly unedited contest or anthology submissions chosen over my work, I realize that my issue is not necessarily a poor product. Perhaps it was the mindset or the genre preference of the contest judge, or their lack of diverse cultural awareness and interest. But it does help to review those winning pieces because I sometimes learn how I might improve my work.


I'm fully aware that certain projects (like writing a novel) are more successful if they follow a formulaic paradigm. But even then, many best-selling authors deviate from conventional norms of plot and character development or utilization of point of view. In my estimation, if a story is written well enough to get readers invested in the protagonist's journey and to evoke a lasting emotional response, the reader will keep turning the pages.


And, oh, did I mention luck? Most of us schmucks don't have fame, highly visible platforms, or reputable contacts in the literary world, so we're missing a leg-up there. But you never know when you're going to strike it lucky unless you try. By following your inner voice, you may be closer to success than you realize!

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