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If we get our styles just right, our readers will know our voices without even seeing our bylines
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Erin O'Riordan

Erin O'Riordan has been writing compulsively since she could hold a pencil, and professionally since 2006.  More than forty of her short stories, essays, and film reviews have been published in numerous magazines and websites.  Beltane, her first novel, is the first in the twelve-part "Pagan Spirits" series. The literary character she most closely resembles is an untamed Shakespearean shrew.

 
By Erin O'Riordan
Published on August 8, 2009
 
"Writers Are Troublemakers, Too"

" ...And I don’t need a single book to teach me how to read

Who needs stupid books? They are for petty crooks..."

("Troublemaker," lyrics by Rivers Cuomo. From Weezer’s self-titled 2008 album)

 


 

"Writers Are Troublemakers, Too"

" ...And I don’t need a single book to teach me how to read

Who needs stupid books? They are for petty crooks..."

("Troublemaker," lyrics by Rivers Cuomo. From Weezer’s self-titled 2008 album)

Okay, so at first glance, Weezer’s pop-rock tune "Troublemaker" hardly seems like inspiration for us writers.. No one wants to be called a "petty crook," and the L.A.-based alternative rock band’s sound isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. (Some of the lyrics, though not the ones I’ll be discussing, are also slightly risque.) The guys of Weezer have come up with some quite original and witty lyrics over the years, though, and on closer inspection, "Troublemaker" has some good lessons for writers after all. Consider some of the lines that follow the "petty crooks" remark:

--"...So turn off the TV, ‘cause that’s what others see." Those of us with a TV habit can attest to TV’s writing-time-wasting effect. As artists, we may applaud TV’s ability to allow millions across the globe to share the same bank of stories and images. In other ways, TV’s visual, corporate-sponsored approach to communal storytelling may lessen our collective ability to imagine a plot line for ourselves, without a Hollywood studio’s help. Before you completely dismiss television as a drain on our imaginations, though, consider this: at a book festival in my hometown, prolific—and best-selling—author Linda Lael Miller was asked where she gets her ideas. She cited TV as one of her inspirations, along with country music.

--"...I will learn by studying the lessons in my dreams..." There truly is a craft to writing. Before we can write that best-seller, we have to learn the nuts and bolts of grammar, punctuation, structure, etc. We begin learning this in school. We read great books and dissect their greatness. We practice, fail, practice some more. Our teachers, tutors, professors, and mentors help us along the way, imparting the knowledge of the craft to us. Books, writers’ conferences, and websites can teach us still more. At some point, though, our writing has to come from somewhere inside of us. Call that "somewhere" what you will: the right hemisphere of the brain, the subconscious, the soul, the muse. Whatever name it goes by, it gives us our best ideas, often when we least expect them. Sometimes they literally come in dreams as we sleep. I’ve had some great ideas just before falling asleep and as I’m waking. Ideas can come at any time, and it’s in our best interest to follow these flashes of inspiration. We can also speak our dreams into reality: the moment we have the courage to name ourselves "writer," we start to make it true.

--"...Doing things my own way and never giving up..." Every piece of writing we submit will be expected to follow the publisher’s guidelines. The key word there is "guide." Writing may be a craft, but it is also an art, and artists have many times been rewarded (professionally or personally) for disregarding the rules and following their intuition. We should do things our own way and write to please ourselves first. Along with that, we have to have persistence. If we’ve studied our craft well, edited judiciously, and written something interesting and worthwhile, our work will be acknowledged, even if that acknowledgment takes longer than we’d like. Never give up.

 --"...I can’t work a job, like any other slob, punchin’ in and punchin’ out and suckin’ up to Bob..." One of the unfortunate truths of the writing profession is an extremely small percentage of us will ever reach the level of success of the top popular authors. Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer Joe Haldeman, at the book festival I mentioned earlier, likened his income to that of "a good used-car salesman." Most of us will never be able to quit our day jobs. This doesn’t mean working as a full-time writer, spending all day every day doing the thing we love most, isn’t a worthwhile goal. Some days feels as if life has unfairly saddled us with a desire to do nothing else but read and write, then forced us to do some other work to pay the bills. With persistence and a little luck, though, many of us will find ways to carve out a living...even if we always feel like the proverbial "starving artist."

 --"...There isn’t anybody else exactly quite like me..." Writers each have our own unique voices, just as the singers of rock bands do. By listening to our dreams, doing things our own way, and working at our craft, we will all create our personal styles. If we get our styles just right, our readers will know our voices without even seeing our bylines. You know Hemingway when you read him, don’t you? Or Edgar Allan Poe? Find your voice, and you’ll find yourself an audience.

In pop-rock songs, the words of the chorus are often repeated. In this case, the last line of

"Troublemaker" bears repeating. When you think of your writing career, remember these three final words: "Never giving up.”