Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dumb Questions--or, What it Means to Be a Creator

What does it mean to be a creator?

I've been a more or less lurking participant in one of the best-known writer resource groups on Facebook for a few years now.  To give credit where it's due, that group is Indie Author Group, which upon this writing time is nearly 9K members strong, and it's the first group I always recommend my friends join when they ask me about writing, whether or not they actually plan to become Indies. Simply put, it's an awesome group of awesomeness.

That said, I've seen dumb questions there for years.

I know, I know.  I've been a teacher, and now a teacher's teacher, for nigh on two decades now.  "There's no such thing as a dumb question!" we thunder at the beginning of every class, in the hopes that our students will be brave enough to venture into that realm we call engagement.  It's an important thing to say, even if it's not really, necessarily, technically, always, um, true.


So to be perfectly honest, yes, there are indeed dumb questions.  And yes, they're much more frequently asked by teachers than by students.  So no, if you're a student, don't worry about asking one, just ask what's on your mind.

But back to the IAG and dumb questions.  Yes, there are.  I'll be happy to add, though, that the questions are only dumb when taken from the position of experience.  In other words, when the new folks ask them, they're really not dumb questions.

One of those came (back) up the other day.  Somebody elsewhere posted a blog about how writers can only consider themselves authors if they meet certain (higher, of course) conditions.  Yes, this is complete hokum, because if you actually look up the meaning of the words, they're perfect synonyms.  It's just somebody's way of feeling all elite and shiny and stuff.

Then, more recently, somebody else posted a question that is in the category I was referring to.  I'll not name names, nor will I repeat the question, but it was another of the fairly standard breed of "is it acceptable to..." questions about writing.  Now, let me be clear: the group wouldn't exist without those questions.  We get a lot of them regularly thanks to the number of new authors who join our ranks.  To them, they're absolutely not dumb questions.

To those of us who've done this a while, though --?

Generally speaking, the answer to any "is it acceptable to violate such-and-such rule" question, for those of us who've done this a while, is that if you have to ask, it's not.  Now, I really didn't get that when I started, and so I don't expect new folks now to get it, either.  Regardless, no.  Just -- no.  The rules are there for a reason.

But wait! you'll exclaim.  There are tons of writers who've become famous while breaking the rules of writing.  Many of them became famous specifically for breaking the rules, right?

Yes!  Yes, that's right.  But they didn't have to ask.

Look, writing is a craft, an art form.  It's something that you learn the basics of, the rules of, early on, and then as you do it, and you read more, and then you write more, and then you read more, and all along you're accepting criticism on what you've written, eventually you might get pretty good at it.  At that point, you'll be a craftsman -- er, person.  Whatever.  You'll be an artist.  You'll be a creator.

The thing is, artists and creators don't ask if it's okay to break a rule.  They just do it, because they know when it needs to be done.  They know when it needs to be done because they've gone through and followed the rules for long enough to achieve a certain level of mastery, of craftsmanship. 

So, again--if you have to ask whether it's okay for you to break a particular rule, the answer should always be no.



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