Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Judy Blume is a trombone

Judy Blume wisely doesn't give advice to other writers in her blog interview at 7-Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Rather, she says: "There are no rules when it comes to writing. Whatever works for you, go for it!"  

I know that answer might disappoint some, but it's the truth. I'm amazed by people who think that what works for one writer will work for another. Writers are their own instruments, and if I try to play trombone like I'm Judy, shouldn't be surprised when I honk out sour notes.  

Digression: I think of Judy as a trombone.  Perhaps because of this unrelated interview with trombonist Christopher Schweizer: 

Tafuri: Though there have been some great ones in the music's history, trombonists (compared to other instrumentalists) are a bit of a rarer breed. Why did you gravitate toward trombone?

Schweizer: ...
 I should tell you that I barely ever think "trombone" anymore, it feels more like my voice — it just "is". It does not feel difficult. But let me try: it was and still is a mixture of love for the many sounds of the instrument and a certain instinct that this was the sound my soul was going to need to express itself. Trombone is a talking sound, and I do think of music in terms of language.

 [...] from a very early age I had a certain urge to do things that had never been done before, or to do old things in new ways, which got me kicked out of most schools I ever tried to go to.

 In the field of musical instruments, this means I was clearly hearing possibilities on the trombone (not on the violin or the piano) that I didn't hear anyone play, and it is towards the realization of these visions that I enjoy working today. 

I'm not saying you have to completely understand yourself as an instrument in order to write. I'm not saying writing standards don't exist. Or that starting with some time-tested rules like "show, don't tell" might not give you a solid foundation. But whichever habits, quirks, goals, guidelines, practice schedules, superstitions, bribes or other "rules" produce writing that sounds true to you, do that. (What Judy and Schweizer said.)

In the beginning, you'll be wrong. You'll think stories sound good that don't. You'll miss obvious blunders. You'll play the music least likely to draw a crowd. So what? What you're strengthening is what Judy Blume has in spades: confidence in your choices. 

Writing rules: Make 'em. Break 'em. Fake 'em. Take 'em to the bank if they work.  If Judy freakin' Blume doesn't care, why should you? Play on!


  1. That makes me want to cheer!

    Okay, so I know it's already clear I'm one of your geekiest fans, but I just have to add quickly that I love the comparisons you draw in...well, in life, which you share in your posts.

    My four-year-old has always said she wants to play the bassoon, of all the instruments. A rare breed, indeed.

    Anyway, I loved Judy's answer, too, and I hope she sees this one day.

  2. And funny/interesting how what works can change from one story to the next...

  3. I agree. Writing is a personal journey. Sticking to your own road and believing in yourself when everything else tells you otherwise is essential.

    I think the best writing in the world comes from the heart.

  4. Writers write their own rules. It' just happens, there's no plan - That's what makes us writers. It's hard to explain that to people, especially students who are trying to find their voice, but it's the truth.

    I can't get the image of Judy Blume as a trombone out of my head.


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