Breaking the Rules

Sometimes I must remind myself that it’s okay to “break the rules” when I am writing.

It has been hard to do this because of the academic indoctrination received during my formal education years ago. Teachers insisted that only the great writers were allowed to break the rules, while the rest of us had to muddle along a traditional path of following the rules.

During my high school years of English literature and writing courses there always had to be a beginning, middle and end to everything – whether it was an essay or story. Back then (1970-74) there wasn’t such a thing as “micro-fiction” because that form does in fact break the traditional rules of a story.

During my freshman & sophomore writing classes in college the same thing happened: One was expected to follow the traditional rules without fail, if you wanted to pass the course. The professors I had saw no value in “experimentation” because again, breaking the rules was for the Great Ones.

In the past number of years I’ve written a slew of mostly unpublished short fiction pieces that indeed break the rules, because they don’t have the traditional beginning, middle and end. It doesn’t make them incomplete nor do I consider myself a great writer of stories.

Most recently I have pushed aside those rules and come out of that shell of formal indoctrination. This doesn’t mean that I advocate that wannabe writers should start off breaking the rules of good grammar and good writing, but they shouldn’t let themselves be stuck there all their days like I did to myself. You never know, one day you might put out a highly experimental piece of writing and get recognized as a ground-breaking author. Then again, maybe not. It’s a crap shoot!

Inspiration

For any writer worth their salt, especially creative writers, having somewhat interesting life experiences definitely helps. Otherwise you are pulling ideas from other sources, other books, other people’s experience.

During the early 1980’s I deliberately forced myself into the social services field, knowing that there would be truckloads of experiences I could use later on in life. Without any background and little training I became a volunteer at Metro Crisis here in Portland, Oregon. After a year I volunteered at Outside-In as a walk-in crisis counselor for the mentally ill. After that I had the opportunity to become a VISTA (volunteer-in-service-to-America) at the Outside-In Street Youth program. I was also associated with Project LUCK (linking up community for kids) and project Greenhouse.

I met lots of different types of people from a wide variety of life. This was a good thing since I came from a somewhat sheltered life and a closed religious bubble (fundamentalist Christianity). This broke the shell that imprisoned my true nature as a person. I started on a path of personal growth and opportunity. By the time I finally left the social service field in 2000, I had gained enough experiences to last me several lifetimes and with a thousand story ideas in my head and notebooks.

Someone once asked me why I didn’t further my education and get a master’s degree in Social Work, since I seemed to be a natural in the field. Well, that wasn’t the reason I was working in the field in the first place. I was gaining experiences, meeting characters, etc. to further my writing dream. Don’t get me wrong, I loved what I was doing even if it was a burn-out kind of job, and it fed my altruistic needs to help my fellow man. there was a guy by the name of Joe Parker at the time that gave me this advice: If you plan on staying in the field, you’ll need a master’s or doctorate – simple as that. He was right. As time went on I was relegated to jobs I didn’t like or want and provided no challenge, simply because I didn’t have the advanced education.

So to get back to my original point here: If you want to be a good writer, do something in your work life that will provide interesting experiences for future stories, essays or poems. And try to do something that may go against your personal inclinations. Never in a million years did I ever conceive of working with street youth or the chronically mentally ill. But after doing so it greatly enriched my life as well as my writing.

Big Changes

For the past several years I have been horribly distracted in maintaining several blog and social media sites. The problem arose when it interfered with my precious writing time. Another reason was that I really didn’t have that many opinions or observations to keep those sites going productively.

Yesterday I shutdown 99% of my internet presence. All my efforts now are concentrated on my business website (mercuryflatspublishing) and this new WordPress blog. That’s it!

Now I can have lots more distraction-free writing time.