Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor

You're Going to Wear White… 
In the Winter?

Bonnie Cowgill
©2003, Bonnie Cowgill

love white. For me it's much more slimming than black.  It makes me look less pale, it makes my hair color less washed-out, it cheers me up and it doesn't show flakes. Imagine my dismay when I found out in my late teens that I was committing a style faux pas every time I buttoned myself up into that favorite white blouse after the Labor Day cut-off date for white.

The advice for writers that saturates how-to books, magazines, Web sites, and writer support circles lately brings me as much dismay as the loss of my white blouse during the winter months.

Don't write passive sentences. Show, don't tell.  Never use a dialogue tag more extravagant than "said."  Eliminate all words that end with –ly from your manuscript. If you love something that you've written, cut it out because you can't judge it objectively.

Conversely, the same sources insist that you develop a distinctive voice.  You have to grab an editor's attention on the first page. Give the story a fresh new spin.

Follow all of the first rules, and bend yourself over backward to try and stand out from the rest of the rule-following crowd.

Or you can throw the rules out the window and take a chance.

I decided the rules didn't suit me, and I wore my white blouse,  my white socks, and my white sneakers from January 1 to December 31, with glee and disregard for the Labor Day rule.

They--you know who "they" are, right? All those people who throw rules around like confetti at a New Year's party?  They also say publishers don't want beautiful prose; they want straightforward and simple prose.

Interesting to note the last two paperbacks I read, both genre fiction, have featured author reviews on the covers that praised each novel for beautiful language and lyrical voices.  Both were published by major New York publishers. One was an author's first book, and her second in the trilogy came out recently in hardcover. Success with breaking the rules? For a second book to appear in hardcover? You betcha.

I didn't come into my unique style and voice as a writer until I made a conscious decision to ignore the rules that don't work for me. That isn't to say I didn't know why the rules existed.  I know the purpose of The Rules for Writers, and I break them with that knowledge firmly in place.

I've never come across a rule for developing my style and voice, and I don't have a rule for anybody who's searching for a concise method of finding that personal element in writing.

What I do have is a bit of free advice (in a field that's full of advice) for writers who are still searching and still finding themselves writing with a voice that sounds like every other voice in the crowd.

Know the rules, know the whys, and experiment with a bit of judicial breaking.

Tell, don't show.

Say it with a shriek, a whisper, a murmur.

Dare to be passive once in a while.

If you love it, back it up in three different places and use a flamethrower to weld it into your work in progress.

Write fearlessly.  With an -ly!

Whatever else you do, remember that writers have something to say.  Say it with strength, power, a willingness to take risks, and remember that if the risk falls flat, delete keys and erasers were made for a reason.