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You Are Free, Act Like It

30 September 2013

From author Susan Kaye Quinn:

Sometimes I think I was made for indie publishing: it’s writing and wild creativity mixed with massive amounts of rule breaking. And indies don’t just break rules. We blow them up, reducing them to subatomic particle sized pieces. Indie publishing isn’t just changing publishing, it’s changing writers.

It may take a while for this to sink in.

. . . .

There’s an invisible, oppressive tangle of influences pressing down on writers, telling them the “rules” from the very first moment they set pen to paper, saying what things are “acceptable” and “not acceptable” to write. It starts young, too. You should see the looks of shock on children’s faces when I teach writing workshops and lead them in a writing exercise and tell them they can write anything they like.

“Anything?” they ask. The deer-in-headlights look is somewhat from blank-page syndrome. But we’ve just finished talking about conflict being the root of the story and that they should use X vs. Y as a starting point, fill in the blanks. So, I’m not leaving them totally in the wind. Still, they’re agog. “We can write anything?” It’s like they’re just sure they heard me wrong.

“Yes, anything,” I say. “Monkeys vs. Zebras. Lettuce vs. Tomato. Pick something. Anything.”

“What if I want to write about zombies?”

“Zombies versus what?”


“Zombies vs. Aliens!” I point at her dramatically, doing my best Robin Williams impression from Dead Poet’s Society. “Now you’re thinking. Be daring!”

A small girl is looking at me intensely, so I turn to her. “What are you going to write about?” She doesn’t say anything. “You don’t have to share,” I say, lowering my Robin-Williams-volume. “Just write it.”

She hesitates. Then she says in this tiny voice, smaller even than she is, “Can I write about brain vs. body? Because the brain wants to live by itself and learn new things and go out into the world, but it can’t because it needs the body and the body doesn’t want to go. The body is afraid.”

Link to the rest at Susan Kaye Quinn and thanks to Lynn for the tip.


5 Comments to “You Are Free, Act Like It”

  1. While I am not really a fan of his, I often remember a little snippet of a Dennis Leary bit I heard on the comedy channel one morning:

    “My son came to me and said, ‘Dad, can we go dogsledding?’

    Now, my first impulse was to say, ‘Dogsledding? What the f***? Why would we do that? That’s nuts.’

    But then I thought for a second, and I looked at him, and I said, ‘We can do whatever the f*** we want, can’t we? Dogsledding? Why not? Let’s go.'”

    The point is not to be mercurial to the point of idiocy, the point is, We can do whatever the f*** we want. We should meet our obligations and avoid causing others unnecessary pain. After that, yes, really, we can do whatever the f*** we want. Remembering that is the beginning of all freedom.

  2. Some people don’t know what to do with freedom.

    • Like captive bred animals, they sometimes stare at the wide open spaces before them and shiver in fear. Some even go right back in the cage.

      (thinking of the authors who “try” indie publishing, don’t get the sales they were hoping for in the first month, and go running back to their agent/publisher.)

  3. That’s not a very good example. I taught fourth graders. At that age, children require rules and don’t like not having them. It takes a lot for them to understand that you want them to break the rules like that.

    She also spent some time explaining the rules, getting them to learn about conflict, and then turned around and told the kids they could now break the rules.

    This would work much better with older children, like high schoolers.

    Her point about adult writers, however, is spot on. We are free to do whatever we want. But not everyone likes breaking away from the tried-and-true.

  4. This is a lovely post. And very insightful. I completely agree – there has never been a better time to be a writer….although, I will say, 10 years from now things might be even better than they are now. 🙂

    Digital publishing and the new found freedom of the writer will change the world. It simply can’t be over-stated.

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