Wrighting Rules & Notes

by Jeff Fearnside

Wrules of Righting

  1. Play with the language. Stretch it, pull it like taffy, throw it around the room and see where it sticks. Pull it off the wall and look at the stain. Use that too. Have fun.
  2. Be human. Don’t become too “literary.” Live my life fully in all of its aspects—physical, mental, emotional, sexual/creative, and spiritual—and write as I live my life.
  3. Don’t think too much. Write as daringly, openly, sloppily as possible, and clean up the mess (edit) later.
  4. Write with intention, purpose, and reverence, but remember: this is creation. It will explode in my head and render all my intentions useless.
  5. Unless I speak with my own voice, creation is lost—it’s then imitation. Speak with my own voice!
  6. Go with the flow. Don’t force the material. If the material becomes stuck, don’t give up: take a break, do some push-ups, dance to music. But always go back to the writing. No one is forcing me to do this; it’s my free and conscious choice.
  7. Finish my projects!

 

Notes to Self When Writing

A writer must stand fearless before the truth, listen carefully, and report it accurately.

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Having an outline is good, it provides a place to start from, but always pay more attention to the characters and story as they develop than to my preconceived notions of what they should be. Follow their leads. Take risks.

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Write like my favorite jazz players play my favorite jazz, with equal parts artistry and passion, creating a mood but also providing spiritual substance, a fusion of different elements (styles, cultures) true to all and slave to none—something new, alive, and relevant.

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Have fun. Break every rule. Let it rip! Anything. Sort it out later. It’s not a waste of time. I have time. Let the original breath of God, reeking with the interstellar garlic and leeks and blood-red wine of the Big Bang, breathe through me. Dig, dig into the soil of my imagination. Go to where the Wild Things are. Whatever small portion of genius may have been allotted to me, touch it. Embrace it. Poetry, magical incantations, journalistic reports, simple lists—use them, embrace them all. Remain open to possibility. And try not to be so damn serious all the time!

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Don’t even think about whether my writing is too popular or too literary, not popular or not literary enough. Just write. Others will decide how to categorize it.

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It’s important to note that it wasn’t always fashionable, especially in other cultures, even today, to be so neutral in writing—to avoid politics, religion, philosophy. Go ahead: take a stance on something. The trick is not to be pedantic.

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Immediate, cut-to-the-bone language. Elegant language. Rich, full language. Wide and expansive. Nuanced and shadowed. Why limit myself for the sake of Emerson’s hobgoblin consistency? Don’t be afraid to play with my full complement of tools. Don’t be afraid to linger on an image or idea, but don’t let the story lag, either!

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The lively, condensed language of poetry, the narrative drive of a short story, with prudent colorings of philosophy, religion, politics, science, history, natural history (landscape as character)—don’t be afraid to use all of my tools!

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While I prefer Emerson’s language of light, Denis Johnson’s reality—that is, a description of our ignorance of who we are—can provide an effective contrast. Use all my tools. Don’t become slave to anyone’s writing dogma, least of all my own.

Jeff Fearnside’s writing has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Rosebud, Many Mountains Moving, and The Pinch (fiction); New Madrid, Etude: New Voices in Literary Nonfiction, and The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays (creative nonfiction); and Permafrost, Qarrtsiluni, and The Los Angeles Review (poetry). Both his fiction and creative nonfiction have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He currently lives with his wife and two cats in Prescott, Arizona, where he is at work on a novel.

 

 

Anything you’d like to say about the process of creating these rules?

    I wrote these for the practical reason that I needed some bananas. Like a lot of writers, I’m occasionally visited by what Natalie Goldberg calls “Monkey Mind,” that chattering collective of distractions that attempts to waylay my work in seemingly thousands of different—often very clever—ways. To appease the simians, I offer them these fruits. They’re tacked to a corkboard that hangs above my desk, where I can see them easily. They help me stay on track.

Do any of these rules apply to life in general? If so, how?

    Yes, absolutely—I see my writing and my life as being inseparable. This is something I’ve increasingly come to realize over the years, not intellectually but through the acts of writing and living themselves.

    When I was younger, I went through a long phase, including my early undergraduate years, in which I primarily wrote poetry. Then I worked as a journalist for a time before entering graduate school to concentrate on writing fiction. I thought of myself in those distinct terms: “poet,” “journalist,” “fiction writer.” School—while being a great experience for me—tended to reinforce those separate identities. I got the sense that I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I didn’t specialize in one genre. Despite that, I couldn’t help writing in whatever genre seemed most appropriate to the piece I was working on. It was clear to me that certain ideas call for this, others for that, and others still for a blending between genres. Sometimes 10,000 or 15,000 words are needed; sometimes 1,000 or 150 will do. My rules (or “wrules”) are a reminder that all of this is okay—that it’s okay to be myself, to experiment and play and passionately follow my own muse.

    This blending and elasticity directly parallel the overall trajectory of my life. For example, I was raised a Christian, but I stopped attending church when I was sixteen. I then spent many years searching, reading voraciously, and initially I wanted a label I could wear: “Existentialist,” “Transcendentalist,” “Buddhist,” “Taoist.” Eventually, just as with my writing, the lines blurred between these supposedly distinct camps. I’m now quite comfortable with my own unique spiritual view or philosophy or whatever one wishes to call it.

    In short, I’ve come to be someone who doesn’t recognize hard and fast divisions in the world. I see commonalities. This is inseparably tied to my writing and my views on writing.

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