Hi Ho to all of you monkeys hangin' around this zoo!
If you’re here, you’re probably a writer and you know exactly what I’m talking about (or very lost and wondering what the hell is going on).
Last week the family and I went to the zoo and it got me thinking that each of the beasts, those wild animals held captive in their domestic prisons, is like a writer.
The writer longs to be free of the chains and enclosures caging us in (don’t miss The Writer’s Maze: WiPs and Chains). We want to be free, to run untamed through the jungle of publishing rules and laws, a.k.a. THE WRITER’S MAZE! But like the zoo, though it is beautiful and orderly to look at, the rules of writing try to control and tame the writer’s heart.
Yes, there should be boundaries and standards of acceptable writing, but when and how can we writers escape the confines of these laws and get away with it? Let’s look at The Road a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy.
McCarthy is a lion of the writing jungle. He dared to ignore almost every writing law in existence and he got away with it. For those of you who’ve read The Road you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s choppy, it’s grammatically incorrect to the extreme, heck he doesn’t even use punctuation. Many people have pondered why he wrote the novel this way, was it to add to the discomfort the characters were feeling? It certainly made me uncomfortable reading it.
Does that mean we, as writers, can follow in McCarthy’s footsteps and get published? Win a Pulitzer? Maybe. What I mean is, are we a lion like McCarthy? I know I’m not. I’m more like this guy…
...not the cutest bird in the world, but my song is sweet.
I’m exotic, yes. I’m different, I’ll give you that. But I only vaguely resemble the rest of my writer species. My writing is more like a bird on a wire than a lion on the prowl. If I tried to break all of the rules McCarthy did it wouldn’t work for me. I couldn’t even live in the same enclosure with a lion let alone try to be one.
That’s why we need the zoo and the zoo keepers. The zoo, rules of good writing, maintains the standard. However, what the zoo cannot do is determine how and why a certain literary work has the IT factor. Now, the zoo keepers, the editors, agents and publishers, remind us daily that even though we must conform to their rules and live with our own kind, they still want us to remember that we are wild.
Now, you might be the type of writer who thinks, eh, writing is easy. Any monkey can do it…if they follow the rules. And though that might be true, it doesn’t mean any monkey can climb to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list.
The zoo works because of the regulations and environments it provides for the wellbeing of the public, but if we animals (i.e. writers) were to become too complacent and docile no one would want to visit us. The zoo is the best of both worlds. It is a collaboration of dangerous predators and the sweet songs of the canaries presented together in a picturesque and stimulating setting (i.e. books).
After all, that is the goal, yes? To see our writing tamed and corralled along the shelves of many, many bookstores? I know that’s my goal. Like my fat, long-beaked bird, I pick and gather the twigs and moss of literary dos and don’ts, trying to force my natural tendencies to conform. At times I do still feel as though my wings are clipped, but for the most part I’ve learned to fly up one branch at time.
Maybe one day, the monkeys will be trying to catch us birds.