When you can’t see the Forest for the Trees

I’ve been reading quite a bit of Indie work lately, which isn’t surprising because that’s what my business focus is right now. However, I picked up two traditionally published books that had been on my shelves for a long time, one fiction the other non-fiction. I was amazed at the difference. I didn’t notice it so much when I moved from traditional to Indie, as I originally started reading works by friends. Nothing will blind you to minor idiosyncrasies faster than observing and critiquing the work of friends.

As I began writing on my own, I did extensive searches on tips to make your manuscript better. You’d think it would come easy. However, doing the process backwards is more difficult than it would seem. I can’t tell you the number of sites I’ve been to for tips and suggestions to make your manuscript better. Most come from Independent authors though the most popular for both is probably Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. They offer such advice as avoid using was with an ing verb, or do a search and make sure you contract all words that can be, remove all extraneous “that” ’s. And other such advice. If you read published work, they don’t always follow those rules. In fact, it seems to me some authors blatantly break those rules just to have a different feel or voice than others.

I just picked up from my shelf Vince Flynn’s Term Limits (I’ll post my review next Tuesday in lieu of an Author Spotlight post assuming I have finished it). He uses very few contractions. He did his due diligence of show, don’t tell so much so that finding the word “said” is a rarity. I was so taken aback when I picked it up. Almost from page 1, it hit me. His book sounded different because he didn’t conform.

You can’t say it’s because he was a celebrated author because Term Limits was his first book and I got this one shortly after he began publishing. His agent realized he wasn’t doing it to be annoying, and it doesn’t appear he did it to pad the length, so I can only assume he did it on purpose. I’m so glad I picked it up, good for him, may he rest in peace.

I’ve been so stuck on following the rules I’m starting to hate my story. I’m starting to dread opening my computer. I don’t want to be that way. When I first started writing it was my freedom! Now, I feel like I’m chained to these rules. Some will make the finished product better, of that, I’ve no doubt. But will it be enough to make me love it again? To want to open Word to a fresh document a blank page that isn’t scary until you have to read what you hoped your brain told your fingers to type.

Essentially,  what I hope to convey to both aspiring and continuing writers is this. Don’t cut down so many trees that you lose the forest. Write well and make the average reader forget you’ve broken the rules by mere virtue of your ability to tell the story. I’m not talking about grammar here. There should be a common understanding of language. I’m talking about extraneous things. Be bold, be seen, write vividly, and tell the story better than anyone else.