My grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Sweeney Robertson, was a fabulous cook. She feed ten children and a hard-working husband all through the Depression. She had to be creative, often times only having in the house a bag of flour and a head of cabbage.
Before I share how her baking relates to writing, I want to share one brief story of her life. One day, during the Depression, a 'forgotten man' knocked on her front door. He was dressed in old clothes. His face unshaven. He told her he was hungry and asked if she had anything to spare. She told him she had just prepared her family's evening meal. But it was humble in the extreme; cabbage sandwiches. He was welcomed to come inside and sit at their table with them, but he declined. Instead he sat down on the street curb and ate his sandwich in peace.
After the Depression, my mother saw a black limousine pull up in front of her parent's Washington D.C. brownstone. A dabber gentleman was let out by a chauffeur, and stepped up to the door. It was the 'forgotten man'. He returned and thanked my grandmother for feeding him that day and restoring in him a sense that there were good people in the world. He offered her a roll of money. She was gracious to him, thanked him but requested that he take the money to the church up on the corner that she attended and give it to the poor.
Her cooking paid off for some unfortunate man and later for some poor parishioners at the church. Grandma Bess attended cooking classes at Betty Crocker's Cooking School. She could make anything taste good. Now, even though she took these classes, she was so keen on what went into a recipe that she could measure out flour with just her hands.
How do I relate this to writing?
Imagine a stout lady dressed in a 1940s floral dress standing beside a world renowned chef who graduated from a prestigious culinary school. Each is to bake a pound cake. Carefully the chef measures out the flour in a measuring cup. She skims the top with the edge of a table knife to get it exact. She follows the rules of the recipe to the tee.
Bess scoops her hand into the container of flour. "One. Two. Three," she says putting it into a mixing bowl. She tosses in some eggs, pours in a bit of vanilla, and whips them in with a pound of butter, adds the flour and pours the batter into a pan.
The chef does the same, except precise measurements are taken.
Bess drops the bunt cake pan on the floor several times to release air bubbles. The chef is appalled. This is just not the rule. How can she dare to drop cake pan and batter on the floor like that! It is just not allowed. It's an example of poor baking, is it not? (I used to think as a child that this is why it was called 'pound cake', when my mother did the same thing.)
Both cakes come out golden brown and delicious. Who was the better cook? Who deserved a blue ribbon? Both.
In writing you have people who follow strictly to the rule book. Others are more creative, less uptight, and are not put off by words ending in 'ly' or 'ing'. Both deserve publication if their story
is good. Both deserve to win writing contests and be called 'author'. Certainly there are some guidelines to writing that should be adhered to, but rules can make a writer tense if they allow them to overwhelm their creativity.
For me the best advice I've ever gotten came from my cousin, Nora Roberts, last year at our family reunion. She told me to always remember that everyone works at their own pace, and to never compare myself, in the speed in which I finish a novel, or in style, to another writer. Also she told me to not allow myself to be paranoid over the rules of writing, because what publishers want is a good story. If you get overly concerned and freaked if you use a 'ly' or 'ing' word, the quality of your writing might suffer by being too technical.
She went on to say that a lot of aspiring authors are so concerned about the rules they forget it's all about the story, and the execution of it. Not about what's allowed. A book can be perfect technically and fall flat because it just doesn't have that spark that keeps people reading.
On Rachelle Gardner's blog, she asks writers to post what was the best writing advice they have ever received. I'd like to do the same, except to ask you what is the best writing advice you ever received regarding the rules of writing. What advice have you been given that has freed you to be creative and to write the stories you have in your heart?