One of the curious things about writing is the way ‘the rules’ fade away with experience. After a while, writers ‘just know’ how to do things. And good editors know they know.
That also means that an experienced editor doesn’t tick off an experienced author for what, on the face of it, seems to be a noob mistake. Chances are that the sentence beginning with a conjunction is intentional, or a dialogue tag-as-action has been deliberately added. ‘Fixing’ these things usually destroys the deliberate intent of the author (‘Mr Kerouac, I’ve fixed On The Road for you – you obviously don’t know about paragraph breaks.’)
The ‘rules’ are there for one purpose: to ensure clarity of meaning and quality of result. But they are not the sole arbiter of quality.
Of course that doesn’t mean that beginning authors can just blaze away and make all the mistakes under the sun and think they are emulating Steinbeck or Wodehouse. The reason long-standing authors occasionally write in ‘rule breaking’ is because they have made writing part of their soul – they have total control over their expression in ways that beginning writers do not.
A lot of this reflects the learning curve – and the challenge for any author is getting from ‘noob’ to ‘experienced’. Like any skill, it takes about 10,000 hours or a million words. There are four steps:
- Unconscious incompetence –you don’t know what you don’t know. Often, people at this stage (in any field) have an illusory sense of competence – the Dunning-Kruger effect – because they don’t have any idea how poor what they’re doing actually is. I have a funny feeling that this is where a lot of the stuff self-pubbed on Amazon comes from.
- Conscious incompetence – suddenly you realise how much there is to learn. Some people get dissuaded at this point. Others forge ahead.
- Conscious competence – you ‘get’ what it’s about, but it takes time and conscious effort to make it all happen. Often, in writing, the result has all the right elements, but feels ‘contrived’.
- Unconscious competence – the field has become part of your soul. For writers, this is the end-point of a long journey. And the work, again, flows joyfully – but this time, it’s top notch.
Getting from (1) to (4) is a long road. That’s where NaNoWriMo comes in. It’s a great learning tool for authors at the beginning of that learning curve. And fun. If done right, it can also produce something that’s a good foundation for development into a full-fledged novel. More soon.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015