Some writing non-tips and the novelists’ legacy
Once again, the best writing tip is… ‘follow no tips’!
When I was a young and enthusiastic girl in high school, all of my teachers suggested that, in order to write the perfect essay, I had to follow a scheme. The scheme was a cascade of points, that should guide me to write my thoughts. The goal was to have a text, where all the ideas were well related to one another.
More or less, the organization of the writing scheme was something like:
- create your introduction
- explain your main idea
- introduce an opposition
- explain why you still believe your main idea is winning
- close your essay
After I graduated from high school, I kept on writing: tales, articles, stories, and so on. I attended a creative writing course, and I’ve always fostered the dream of writing a novel. No matter what I wrote, I’ve been following the scheme, for years. But, have you ever noticed how many writing tips do not apply to creative writing?
A long time after leaving high school, I was working on the business plan for my company (clearly, I hadn’t become a professional writer), and guess what? As I reviewed the list of points I needed to develop, I noticed its striking similarity to my scheme. Well, to be completely honest, my writing scheme was horribly similar to a business plan index.
Do not misunderstand me, I’ve nothing against business plans and who writes them; but I don’t find them engaging, unless you are a stakeholder of that business. What writer would be glad to produce a story as entertaining as a business plan?
So, when I had this enlightening moment, I was reminded of a lesson by my teacher of creative writing (he is an Italian novelist, Raul Montanari) He said that you shouldn’t stop writing to check spelling, or to make any sort of research. When you are lucky enough to enter some sort of stream of consciousness, where your writing is flowing almost alone, just go with the flow, and let your writing guide itself.
Once you have finished, you’ll have plenty of time to check, edit, and curate every single word, but don’t allow your perfectionism to stop your writing stream.
In fact, I already had the vague idea that many writing tips cannot be followed while creating a story, even if it’s a non-fiction article. I wrote about this hypothesis in a post, where I suggested that sometimes, trying to follow all the writing tips could turn out to be a disaster:
Therefore, I should have understood that writing is a matter of moving feelings into words, rather than following suggestions and rules. Simply said: no writing rule will ever replace creativity, and if you’ve no emotions to share, no writing tip will come to the rescue of your story.
Francis Scott Fitzgerald gave a wonderful expression to this hard suggestion, in a letter to his daughter Scottie:
You’ve got to sell your heart, (…) This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the techniques which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.Letters to Scottie
Going back in time, one of my most beloved novelists, Somerset Maugham let his creativity even develop the story of some characters that kept on living in his mind, despite the novel in which they acted being already published. It’s the case, for example of Captain Nichols, who is introduced in The Moon and Sixpence as a marginal figure. But this character kept on living and evolving in Maugham’s inner writing, until he became the main character of The Narrow Corner, thirteen years later, when Maugham finally became aware of its personality
Maybe we’ll never be such famous authors, and maybe we’ll never face the urgency of writing something that we don’t know where is going to bring us. But it may happen to every one of us to start writing something, and then become aware of a feeling or an opinion, that we had no idea had rooted in our mind. Wouldn’t we all love to be like Maugham, allowing our stories to evolve in our subconscious, beyond the confines of the page?
Therefore, when it happens to you that you are floating in a flow of ideas, in which they follow one other, just let them go. One of the greatest climaxes of writing is finding out that you had an idea you did not know you had. Or, you may finish an essay, and find yourself with an opinion, that’s not exactly the same as you had when you started writing. This is an incredible gift: to find out something about ourselves through writing.
So, if I’m allowed to give a suggestion, I just would like to invite every one of you to write what you feel like, and to work on your pages and words free from scheme, tips, and anything but pure passion for what you are writing.
As Maugham ironically said:
There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.Somerset Maugham
Eventually, I am really open to thinking that the best suggestion for writers, especially new writers, should be: follow no tips. At least, don’t follow them as a surrogate of creativity.
Of course, if you really like schemes, tips and rules, you may always compile the perfect business plan. It’s an honorable job.