A Writers Exploration: The Rules are the Rules are for Breaking

The concept of rules in writing has circulated in my head this past semester, some thoughts seeing the light of day on a previous blog post. My obsessive nature makes me want to be a purist, following all regulations on grammar and sentence structure to the extreme. But the proverbial devil on my left shoulder, who’s persuasion over me has been quite successful in recent months, has helped me deviate quite effectively. Taking risks in my writing has become my normal, sometimes it works well, leading a short on its way to publishing soon, and other times it falls flat on the iced-over concrete resulting in a few bruised ribs and a shattered ego. But that’s okay; “live and learn,” as someone once said before it was repeated a billion times.

I recently read a few stories written outside of the mainstream when it comes to point-of-view and tense that jarred my attention. These stories felt odd, foreign beyond earthly limits, stimulating my imagination as I prepare to work on my current pieces.

The first story was written in second person in the present tense. Yes, you read that correctly. How often do you find yourself reading about yourself placed in a life that you never lived? Fiction is traditionally written in either first or third person, generally dependent on the author’s preference and intent, but second is a whole other world. Check out the following published story, “Sacrifice,” written by Jenn Powers, a peer in my MFA program. Whether or not it was intended, the story plays off the double portrait concept, in which the author paints a portrait of another person who is connected by some type of relationship and thereby creates a self-portrait through responses and interactions. I highly recommend reading the brilliant essayist Philip Lopate to learn more on this subject. Moving back to the story, the reader assumes the role of the protagonist’s ailing and embittered grandmother, grieving the loss of her long-time husband. It is a tragic story conveying a lot of emotion. As I read, I learned about the protagonist’s strong bond with her grandmother and the endearing sadness caused by the current situation. I got to know the protagonist as a result.

A second story that transported me into in another part of the animal kingdom was Tim Weed’s “Snarl.” Tim is a writing mentor in the Western Connecticut State University Writing MFA program. It’s written in the first-person present tense with an additional twist – from the perspective of a hyena. The story moves in real time as it is read, time lapses represented by extra line breaks. Humans are seen as strange and foreign creatures called “skin-monkeys” with their “fire machines” and “false suns.” Essentially, Tim has created a sci-fi story resembling the enslavement of humans by an alien race; only the humans are the aliens here. I fell into this story in the first few paragraphs; the vivid sensory elements placed me in the head of a hyena with his mate on the run from a fenced-in enclosure, presumably a zoo – a sort of Bonnie and Clyde scenario only ore visceral than bank robberies.

The rules exist to provide structure and guidance as we develop ourselves as creative beings regardless of our chosen discipline. Traditional methods, such as writing in past tense and third person exist to provide stability and a level of comfort while exploring the craft. When you have mastered the craft, you must master undoing all of those rules and traditions to find your voice, to let your nature shine through your art. In other words, break the rules when you know how to do it well and with intent. Show no fear.

On my return to school and writing

I must be insane choosing to write this post with my iPhone. Blame it on overtiredness – it is almost 1AM, afterall – and I don’t know what surprises lie ahead with the wonders of autocorrect and a very small touchscreen keyboard. I like to challenge myself, even on the most mundane level, though it tends to be more masochism than sensing accomplishment. I suppose if I were anyone else, I would be a self-loathing monk flogging away nightly in a remote monastery atop a 1,000-foot cliff overlooking the beautiful Mediteranean seaside city below, always out of reach yet so enchanting.

So this brings me to where I find myself now. I have overcome a major hurdle in my life, pursuing a masters degree, and most importantly, in writing. Last night I completed my first week at the WestConn MFA Writing residency, I knew from the first few minutes in my first workshop with the talented author Dan Pope that I had indeed found my new home. Actually, my old home surrounded by talented, uninhibited artists from all walks of life – a critical facet missing from my personae since… I don’t know when. This group of students and mentors, made up of many established professionals and some younger aspiring creatives, welcomed us new students as if we were never strangers. The talent this group exudes is mind-blowing, to use one of my overused cliches, and I am proud to now be affiliated with them.

So enough gushing for tonight, I need to be able to sleep without the feeling of having turned into the “sensitive male” that I despised so much in the 90s. Not that I have a problem with guys showing emotion, I have a stoic reputation to maintain (really?), and those sensitive male types need to get over their self-pitying watery-eyed selves.

I have no idea where I am going with this and I am too tired to review and edit. Probably a total waste of a post riddled with errors and nonsense considering I consider myself a writer, I forget what I said, I think. I wonder if my surreal lucid state kicked in during any of this? That said, good night world, time to start the real writing in the morning.