Thursday, July 14, 2011

Do Good Fences Make for Good Writing?

"Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down."
-- American Poet Robert Frost

I suspect that if Robert Frost stopped by my words on a snowy evening--or a summer morn--he would squash them under his heel like they were the proverbial fat, white spider.

That said, I find that I work better in my writing life by having the "good fence" provided for me.

What do I mean by the good fence? I'll show you.

Writing Rules and Figuring out How You Work Best

Wherever you look, you'll find writing advice. In my writing about not giving writing advice, alas, I am dispensing nuggets of worth (at least I hope so), too.

But you really, truly need to find what works for you.

Some say you have to carve out an hour a day or at least set up a time slot that you always fill with the coin of your particular realm at the same time daily. Others enjoin the following: have an actual desk in an actual office even at home, hang a "do not disturb" sign on the door, dress up as if it were a workplace, or don't multitask.

All have their validity. Some may work for you. Some may not.

I find that I benefit by having rules established for me, as with writing contests and competitions or submission guidelines. The open page is so much more daunting than, say, that white space which has to be framed by the rules of a particular publication or contest.

If they say a thousand words tops, it behooves me to put my horse within those borders rather than letting her run amok, to crash through the fence at 1,001. Even if she knows the editor or has a cracking-good story, she is likely to be put back out to pasture if she can't follow the rules.

The Woods May be Lovely, But Keep Your Eyes on the ...

. . . Prize that is the hard-won task of writing and its bosom buddy, editing. Are you missing the forest and the trees if you scatter your talents around, desperate to latch onto some writing gig or inspiration? Any project will do, you might think. And there are definitely some writers who can write about anything and make the words work wonders for them.

I want to provide a for-instance here. But I will instead digress. I am going so far as to suggest that you diversify your writing to improve your main genre, niche, or focus.

If you don't normally write poetry, sit down and reel off a haiku before you get your writing started one day.

If you're a poet or playwright, instead pen an opinion piece or work on crafting a fiction story told from the perspective of a person lacking one or more of the five senses.

But remember to occasionally let yourself get outside the comfort zone of that fence, too.

With the good fence, all bets are off. You can stretch and roil and toss tempests around a bit, but keep it all corralled within the rules.

A Writing Prompt to Help You Negotiate the Fence

Instead of feeling like the captive in a pit-and-pendulum-type narrative, view the fence as a friend or, as Frost suggested, a good neighbor.

It will keep you honest. Keep you working, plugging, focused, and trained.

And, finally, I thought it might be good to suggest a fence-building outfit. You might have heard of The First Line. They sponsor quarterly writing contests wherein you take a supplied writing prompt--the first line of a story--and spin a world from within it.

Their latest fence, for Fall in this case, has been rolled out here, and your stories are due 1 August 2011. Please let me know if the fence framework frees you up, as it did for Frost, evidenced by his mastery of rhyme and meter, or feels more like a literary tether.

And, meanwhile, it's well worth your time to read or listen to the Frost poems I've only tidbitted here, in order of mention:

"Mending Wall"

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (audio)


1 comment:

  1. Your comment on stepping of your comfort zone and diversifying reminded me of a little piece I heard on NPR yesterday about a book that breaks the genre rules.