Monday, May 14, 2018

Conviction Does Not Mean Convention

Normally, I hire based on eagerness. It has always been easier to train someone excited to do the work than to bring in a begrudging expert. It’s one of the reasons I suggest giving your family and friends a chance to learn how to give good feedback instead of writing them off for one inadequate experience. Help them grow, get comfortable, and learn how to talk to you before saying, “Oh no. My mother is too nice.”

If you have someone who wants to help you, who wants to read your work, developing successful techniques to communicate is more likely to yield a good partner than trying to find someone perfect and then convincing them to help. For many authors, your mother will be your worse critic, and not necessarily in a useful way, but even for those that “She’s too nice to give real feedback” ring true, you can work your way through that. If they’re willing, you’d be surprised what you can tweak.

But there are some exceptions. Case in point, there was a woman with a fantastic attitude, who asked me if she could read my writing then proceeded to do so in a timely fashion. She was friendly, respectful, and a perfect partner in every way… except she didn’t know what she was talking about.

She didn’t offer up opinions like I had wanted, instead sticking to typos, grammar, spelling, formatting, more black and white issues with distinctive rules. I wanted critiques more along the lines of “I can’t stand this character” over proofreading—saved for later in the process—but I’d take what I could get. Most authors, myself very much included, have a ridiculously hard time getting people to read their work. (On that note, if you are a writer, or a reader, and are interested in giving/trading feedback, hit me up at info.daveler@gmail.)

However, when I began to read her actual notes, I found some problems. Among a few outright incorrect suggestions, she questioned pretty common conventions. She asked me, at one point, why I had included a dash at a certain spot… an interruption in a piece of dialogue.

I see this from time to time. We as readers don’t pay attention to how people write, and that’s often the point. I’m astounded when you have an author who has a completely unique style from what everyone else is doing (not necessarily in a good way) and he is absolutely oblivious to the fact that it’s so different it’s almost distracting, telling you it’s the right, and only, way to do it.

Like the so-called freelance editor who claimed merely inserting ums and ers would make for good dialogue, or the purple poet who thought good style means never ending in a preposition. Their writing was so distinctive and uncommon that you couldn’t find a published piece that did things even similarly, and yet they were insistent that it was THE way to write, that you learned how to do it like them before you could have a “voice.”

No one writes like that; yours is more of a risk than what you’re denouncing. In fact, in my subjective opinion, their rules for the inexperienced writer were actually what was holding their writing back the most.

I’ve used clich├ęs before that people accused of being purple prose:

“He clamped his mouth shut.”

“With what?”

I’ve witnessed long winded arguments about whether or not readers would understand italics being used for thoughts by a writer who’d never seen it done before.

I’ve read a myriad of manuscripts that don’t punctuate dialogue in the way what every single book you can pick up does.

The point is, convention isn’t always recognized.

But I’m not talking about this out of frustration or disapproval, but inspiration. When I see someone adamantly insist of the peculiarity of a conventional decision, it reminds me that everyone’s perspective truly is different. Their experiences, what they notice, what they deem to be true, doesn’t undermine my reality. Just because they don’t remember seeing something done a certain way before doesn’t mean you can’t do it that way, or that everyone will agree with them.

I’m a gullible person, surprisingly enough, and it’s not uncommon that if someone speaks with conviction, even if I know a great deal about the subject at hand, I’m more likely to trust them, question myself, and adhere to the reality that they state. It is times like this, when people insist with the upmost surety, that I am reminded about how unsure everything is.

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