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Robert's Rules of Writing #68: Kill the Passion

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

With rule #68, Masello warns us against writing in a fit of passion. He seems to be reacting to a piece of advice he's found in other books, which is to write when you feel most passionate about something. But he warns that such writing tends to come out less than coherent, and will most likely need a good dose of revision.

From my own experience, I have to say that I tend to disagree with this rule. Perhaps I'm confusing passion with obsession, but in general I've found that the stories I'm most passionate about are the ones that flow the easiest, and the ones that garner most of the attention.

If I may, allow me to discuss how I tend to come to write one of my own stories. (Yes, I know this is a digression. I'm using Robert's Rules as a springboard in this case.) What usually happens is that I start with an idea. Or, rather, I should say that an idea comes to me. Furthermore, the idea comes to stay for a long time. It takes up residence in my mind, and refuses to even consider leaving until I've started to jot down a few notes on how to turn it into a story. In fact, in order to exorcise the idea completely, I generally have to write the story, submit it somewhere, and see it published. (Examples of such stories include "Time Ablaze" and "Paying It Forward.")

So when I'm obsessed by a story, I tend to write it next. And, interestingly enough, those stories usually require the least revision. It's the stories whose words flow like molasses in winter that require the most rewriting.

So does this mean I would dismiss rule #68 entirely? Well, not quite. Because I can understand how in the throes of passionate writing, writers might rush through so many thoughts that they lose the narrative thread that holds the words together. To me, Masello's rule #68 is just another way of saying that it's always a good idea to take a second look at your work before you offer it up for publication.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein


I wonder if Roberts was advising against so much passion that the writer
loses perspective, which leads to keeping in loved passages that were
better cut. ??
I'm not sure if he refers to the "Murder your darlings" advice in that particular mini-essay, but I believe he does so elsewhere in the book.
I think he may actually be referring to something different, not "what you're passionate about" as in hobbies or even writing up a storm, but "you can't write about love coherantly when you're in love," or "you can't write about death when you're still in shock and grieving without either shying away from things that are true or doing yourself serious harm."

Does that make sense?
Makes sense to me.

December 2016

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