Ignorance is bliss…

My sister Michelle and I have frequently observed over the years, that when someone is so simple that they never have a clue what danger in life may lie ahead, they might stress when the storm hits, but they’re usually happier in general than people who foresee what potential misfortune might be on the horizon.

One such example is the time a couple brought their 2-week old baby to our photography studio, and when the baby started crying, the young father actually put a piece of sour candy in the infant’s mouth so it would have something to suck on!  (Yes, really!  And, yes, the mother just smiled as she sat there and watched!)  Michelle and I looked at each other, then we started to object simultaneously, but not before the infant started choking!  (Oh, yeah, that was a nightmare!)  The baby was fine after the candy was dislodged, but Michelle and I knew that wouldn’t be the first (or probably even the worst) new parent mistake that couple would ever make.

Another example that I’m sure you’ve all seen at one point or another is when someone is seemingly oblivious to the multitude of evidence that their spouse is cheating on them or that their teenagers are in some major kind of trouble, yet the person in question truly has no clue.  They’re happy in their ignorance, and they’re literally shocked beyond belief when the crap hits the fan.

You see what I mean?  These people were much happier not realizing they were playing with fire and were about to get burned.  Ignorance really is bliss, and being smarter, wiser, or better able to see the whole picture than those people, even if it means having more time to brace yourself for the impact of the situation, does not necessarily equate to a happier life. In fact, just the opposite is true:  The people who can see two steps ahead and know what lies in hiding around the corner are more apt to fail to live life to the fullest, and they constantly readjust and prepare themselves for something bad.  In fact, they tend to focus so much on the pending doom that they fail to notice all the beautiful things in life passing them by.

I’ve noticed over my past several months of editing (and re-editing!) my manuscripts that I was a much happier writer when I was oblivious to all “The Rules” associated with making a good novel great.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still at my happiest when I write.  And I’ve also passed the point of referring to The Rules as “Those Stupid New Rules.”  (To tell you the truth, I’ve now embraced them to the point that I actually cringe when I catch a spot where I failed to use them, and I really do love the way my books now sound so much more polished than they originally did.)

But I no longer just sit at my computer, open up a vein, and pour out my insides to create a story.  Now, as I write, I constantly think about which kill words to avoid, which adverbs to stay away from, and which dialog tags to omit.  I think about whether or not my Oxford comma is consistent, whether my currency amounts or times should be spelled out or written numerically, or if I’m doing enough showing and not too much telling.  Of course, if there’s an extra cubic centimeter left in my brain with all those rules rattling around, I’m also mindful to avoid head-hopping, to stick to only one point of view at a time, and to close up any plot-holes I may have left behind.

When I first learned of all The Rules, I was quite overwhelmed.  I feared I may never write again.  But, now, I do actually embrace them.  I think the two things that still hang me up, though, are that I sometimes make a scene too short because I’m trying to get one quick point out in the middle of passing time, and I occasionally still get hung up on point of view.  I mean, I have improved immensely in the POV department overall, but occasionally, when I’m in Jane’s POV, I might say that Bill “forced a smile,” and then I have to remind myself that Jane has no way of knowing if Bill’s smile is genuine or not, so I can’t say that.  I still find those type of scenes rather frustrating.

So to conclude, now that I fret over being in compliance with The Rules (which I do now believe are actually good rules), my writing is a lot slower than it used to be.  And though Ernest Hemingway said writers simply “sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” for me it’s as if I took a coagulant.  And though I do feel like a better writer these days, I sometimes long for the days when I sat around in a blissful stupor writing whatever flowed from my mind to my fingertips without stopping to think how I might have to fix it later if I proceeded without caution.

Let’s talk:  Would you rather be ignorant and happy or knowledgeable and anxious?  Do you follow The Rules as you write your first draft, or do you write freely then fix things when you edit? 

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26 thoughts on “Ignorance is bliss…

  1. Oh yes, Rachel, really suffered with this one after learning how poetry is supposed to ‘scan’ and sometimes I do think that I sacrifice some of the language and meaning of the verse in order to make the words fit better. But in time, I am learning how to come to a happy medium of bending the rules when necessary.

  2. I free-write until I think I have enough material, then put it in some kind of order and start rewriting, over and over, until I’ve done all I can with it. I don’t worry about the rules until I start rewriting. I spend much more time in rewriting and editing than I do on the story itself. But I’m always adding and subtracting until the very end. Even after the piece is published, I’ll make notes for some future version of the story. I never really finish a story, I just reach a point of diminishing returns. I enjoy the editing part more than the first draft part, because I think the editing part is where the writing takes place. I don’t feel like I’m in the grove until I’ve got my dictionary and thesaurus open on the desk and I’m looking in 3 grammar books looking to see if I can break a rule without the grammar cops reaching for protective underpants.

  3. i’m pretty much what i’d consider a free-style writer, but then, i’m not working on a novel, and the things i write lend themselves to an open approach.

  4. I prefer to write freely and then go back and consider revisions. To be honest, I feel that creative writing should be more art than science. I understand the need to have work free of errors that don’t distract the reader, but sometimes when I obsess over the rules and regulations of writing, I feel like I’m losing the authenticity of my work. As for being ignorant and happy or knowledgeable and anxious–that is a difficult decision. Can I just be happy and knowledgeable? 🙂

  5. I’ll fix some things as I go along–things that won’t let me go any further without obsessing that it needs to be fixed–but I try write it all then go back. To the ignorance piece, it depends. Probably the most likely I am to look away is when people are doing something I don’t want to see–as in people at work, though, not in my own family.

    • The thing that get to me the most is probably the backstory. When I write freely, I put the backstory at the beginning, then move it when I edit. That part is always the hardest for me. 🙂

  6. I think it depends on the situation. In the case of the parents who were clueless about how to care for an infant, I think some parenting tips–and perhaps a dash of common sense–would have been useful, perhaps crucial. 🙂

    I haven’t done much fiction writing. For most of my writing, I like to start out with certain things in place–correct font, spacing, etc., and I tend to correct errors as I go along. I often just start writing though without a real outline, so I often end up re-writing.

  7. I don’t know what the rules are so I guess I’m your first category. Reading the comments I saw the word WOW and it reminded me of the bloke who had a ‘W’ tattooed on each butt cheek…plainly when he bent down it read WOW! My apologies for lowering the tone of your blog!

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