Unexamined beliefs

I found this post interesting. It’s by Anne R Allen, link via Passive Voice blog: What Keeps You From Writing Success? Are you a Prisoner of Unexamined Beliefs?

that 4th Grade teacher who told you if you kept reading comic books, you’d never amount to anything. Shamers like the anti-comic book teacher are dangerous because you usually don’t remember them. You may have forgotten your 4th Grade teacher’s name. All you know is you feel guilty when you read things you enjoy—plus you have a secret, persistent fear that you’re never going to amount to anything.You’ve never questioned this “information” because it was the first information you got on a subject. Plus it was probably delivered in a emotionally memorable way.

It’s interesting to think of possibly remembering nothing at all about an incident, but nevertheless taking away from that incident some persistent belief. Also, probably true. I like this bit —

So maybe there was a schoolmarmish know-it-all in your first critique group who told you in a withering tone that only terrible writers use the word “was.” She may have trapped you into the mindset that “was” is a taboo word.

— because wow are there a lot of this kind of pseudo-rules that get propagated as though spawning on their own, independent of any kind of reason for existence.

Just for fun, how many pseudo-rules can be packed into one piece of advice? At least three: “Only terrible writers use “was” because “was” means the sentence is in the passive voice and passive voice is always bad.” How about that for cramming a lot of awful advice into one declarative statement?

I’ve always disregarded bad writing advice and proscriptive writing rules. I had a lot of encouraging teachers as a tot, I guess. But this tidbit strikes me as true:

This is why NaNoWriMo works for a lot of new writers. It forces them to put the stuff on paper in a playful way, joining in a national game. So those perfectionist pre-programmed beliefs are overridden.

I think this is true. I would say “encourages” rather than “forces,” but it seems to me that NaNoWriMo is presented in a playful way, generally, and that may well help people take it less seriously and thus get more words on paper. I’ve never taken part in NaNoWriMo because I’m usually winding down from a project in November. But this year I kinda took September and October off, so who knows, maybe in 2019, I will actually pick up a project November 1st and see how it goes.

Anne R Allen’s post is also relevant to the idea of what you’re “meant” to write, a concept I mentioned in a recent post. I had trouble with that “meant to write” idea, and I know some commenters here did as well, but Allen says,

My parents were both literature professors, so I had unexamined beliefs about literary fiction being superior to genre fiction. This kept me writing and rewriting the same unpublishable literary novel for years. Finally a friend I trusted pointed out that I was always reading mystery novels and funny women’s fiction. Why didn’t I write books like that? Bam. I had to examine why I believed I had to write literary fiction. And realized I didn’t. When I finally let myself write a funny mystery, my writing flowed easily.

I can’t imagine deliberately setting out to write The Great American Novel, but of course a lot of people do seem to have that ambition. I imagine it would be quite a relief to stop trying to Achieve The Great Novel and just relax and write — though funny mysteries would probably be as hard for me personally as literary fiction!

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