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My Guiding Principle of Writing

August 3, 2014

Hello! It’s been a bit of an interesting week for me, and some of it made me examine my writing and own up to what my expectations of writing and writers are.

This wasn’t a “why do I write” question, but more of a “what do I look for in writing? What’s my base expectation of reading, of the reading experience? What do I expect writers to provide me as a reader, and for me to provide to my readers? What consistently makes me put down a book and never want to read it again? What makes me re-read a book?”

My answer came from Ken Kesey: “If it doesn’t uplift the human heart, piss on it.”

This quote’s been knocking about my head for a while, but I didn’t realize how important it was to me until this week. I subscribe majorly to this rule. It’s my guiding principle of writing. If a story doesn’t uplift me or humanity or have even one speckle of brightness in it, I don’t care.

There’s a whole Kesey story around the quote here, in case you’re interested (word search the word “piss” and it’ll pop up first thing). It’s fun.

Do you have a guiding principle of writing? Something you always expect a story to do? I’d be interested to hear other answers: please feel free to share in the comments!

  1. Mine is similar to yours, but maybe a slight twist (or just in my own words). I define 5-star books by whether they changed me in some way. And that’s what I truly look for: insight into the human condition, a revelation of how someone else thinks or even how I think, truth that screams off the page. That is what I want to write. With every book, I want to write a truth that isn’t obvious but is still important or an important point that has somehow slipped through the cracks of our busy, every day lives.

    • That’s great, Samantha! Now that you mention it, your guiding principle really comes through in your writing: Enael and her Wards are constantly searching for and discovering new truths, about themselves and the universe around them.

  2. It must educate me in how words can be used together. Which is a crap way to say “style.” If a writer’s style doesn’t lift my eyebrows or illicit a smile or perhaps a bemused “hmm” within the first few graphs, then I usually move on to the next piece. This holds true for op eds on finance, or puff pieces on internet culture. If you are not capable of injecting some panache every so often, then you are not worth reading. Of course, what I think of as engaging style, and what you regard as such, can be two wildly different experiences. Oh well.

    • Hey, that’s fine! What you prefer doesn’t have to be applicable to everybody. Some writers just have amazing style, don’t they? F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing style just leaves me in happy tizzies. I just eat it up.

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