Trust Your Instincts

11 Jul

I was talking to my best friend, Frank, on the phone the other day.  I’ve known Frank for fifty-five years now, so we have a good amount of reminiscing to do whenever we talk.  On this particular discussion we were talking about baseball.

Summers were for baseball when we were growing up.  If we weren’t playing for a team we were getting guys together for games of “pick-up,” and if we weren’t doing that we were watching the local AAA team, the Tacoma Giants, play at Cheney Stadium during their homestands.

Frank and I were pretty similar in our playing abilities.  Neither of us could hit worth a damn, but we were both excellent outfielders.  We had that innate ability to track a fly ball off the bat, determine how hard it was hit, envision the path of the flyball, do it all in split-seconds, and take the shortest route to where the ball would land.  Not everyone has that ability.  There are players who will play for decades and never develop those kinds of instincts.  Standing three-hundred feet from the batter, hearing the tone of the bat hitting the ball, following the trajectory of that ball, toss in a little trigonometry, adjust for the wind speed, and knowing exactly where the ball will end up is not something you can teach a young kid.  They either have it or they don’t.  Practice helps, of course, but we are talking about a talent that goes beyond practice.

I’m not bragging, mind you.  I don’t brag. I’m simply stating fact.  Some have it, some don’t!


It’s not that different in writing.

I re-read “The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck, a couple years ago, and one sentence in that masterpiece stood out to me.  It was in the first chapter . . . hell, it might have been the very first sentence . . . anyway, that sentence seemed to go on forever.  It was the longest sentence I have ever seen in a novel.  It defied all logic.  It really broke all the rules.

And yet it worked perfectly for that novel!

You can’t teach that.  In fact, most teachers do not teach that sort of grammatical freelance.  If a teacher tried to diagram that sentence they would need a strong shot of whiskey afterwards.

And yet it worked perfectly for that novel!

The point is this: a large part of the craft of writing is instinctual.  There are times when grammatical rules can, and should, be broken.  I believe voice, and rhythm, are much more important than strict adherence to grammatical rules.  I can teach someone to write in a grammatically-correct manner.  I cannot teach them their own voice.

Thus sayeth Bill!

Have a great week of writing; have a better week of living!


“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

24 Responses to “Trust Your Instincts”

  1. Mike July 11, 2017 at 4:41 pm #

    Hi Bill – Funny, I could catch anything. But I could not hit at all. So there is that. As for the rules, instinct is better than rules when it comes to writing. I get dinged for run-on sentences, but I don’t change them. The idea is to get the whole idea surrounded in a sentence. Happy Tuesday.

    • Billybuc July 11, 2017 at 4:44 pm #

      Mike, we would have made a great outfield combination…no balls would fall to the grass with us out there..but they would have to bat us 8th and 9th in the order for sure. LOL I on, surround the idea, you do it well and I see no reason to change.

  2. Ruchira Khanna July 11, 2017 at 5:22 pm #

    Well said, Bill.

    That voice is what makes each writer unique otherwise all of us tend to overlap the genres.
    My son also plays baseball, and he loves it 🙂

    • Billybuc July 11, 2017 at 5:35 pm #

      I love it, Ruchira…it is what makes us all unique….tell your son to hit a homerun for me. 🙂

  3. susanzutautas July 11, 2017 at 8:29 pm #

    I always got stuck in the outfield when I played softball. Sometimes I would catch the ball and other times I’d miss it. It would have been about 50/50 I suppose. When it came to hitting I was pretty good 🙂

    • Billybuc July 11, 2017 at 9:29 pm #

      Well together, Susan, we would have made one very good ballplayer. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

  4. 1authorcygnetbrown July 12, 2017 at 12:41 am #

    I was thinking about something similar during the past few days. I realized that from the time I was very little (under the age of 3), I have always had the propensity to enjoy story telling. This love for telling and retelling stories has been a great influence on how I write.

    • Billybuc July 13, 2017 at 2:02 am #

      it’s interesting, Donna! I had the same realization…didn’t realize it when I was young but I saw it, looking back, about ten years ago.

  5. froggy213 July 12, 2017 at 2:19 am #

    You hit the baseball over the left field wall with that post Bill. Thanks.

    • Billybuc July 13, 2017 at 2:02 am #

      If I did, Greg, it’s the first homerun ever for me. LOL Thanks buddy!

  6. phoenix2327 July 12, 2017 at 10:51 am #

    Yes, the teacher would have needed a shot of whiskey and I would have needed a caffeine drip to wake up from the coma that would have induced. Diagramming, ugh!

    I’m a firm believer that rules are meant to be broken. Not all, though. The trick is knowing which ones are worth your while. I think it’s important to have a good grasp of grammar so you’ll know which of those rules is worth your while.

    How is Frank, by the way?

    • Billybuc July 13, 2017 at 2:01 am #

      I agree with you, Zulma! I break rules often, but I think long and hard before I do it. If it doesn’t have the effect I want, then it’s not worth doing.

      Frank is as expected. Thank you so much for asking.

  7. Sarah Potter Writes July 12, 2017 at 3:32 pm #

    I can honestly say that I don’t have one sporting skill, apart from a vicious serve in table tennis.

    Re grammar — I think that if you read your work out loud, any grammar that doesn’t work will come to the fore. Yes, know the rules but it’s doubtful that a total pedant makes a great writer of fiction, although it’s a useful skill for editing and proofreading (up to a point). It’s always fun to play around with word order in a sentence, as one order might produce something mundane and another something genius. I do feel strongly that writers should know punctuation rules. For instance, there are those who don’t punctuate dialogue properly, even after they’ve been all the way through school and university!

    Read, read, and read novels of all kinds, that’s the key. Read well-written ones to absorb the rhythm and flow of words. Read less well-written ones and examine what it is about them that makes you think they’re less than exceptional.

    I hope Frank is doing okay. Such long friendships are more valuable than gold dust.

    • Billybuc July 13, 2017 at 1:59 am #

      Sarah, I agree with every word you wrote. Thanks for your thoughts. The ones who truly care about improving would do well to pay close attention to what you wrote. As for Frank….thank you!

  8. Manatita July 12, 2017 at 8:34 pm #

    You are so much like me in some ways, Bro. It’s uncanny! Perhaps we have a hotline for chatting in the ether; perhaps we’re drinking the same ‘free-style’ medicine, from that ceaseless flow Upstairs. So many beautiful libraries, so many eloquent words! -Peace!

    • Billybuc July 13, 2017 at 1:57 am #

      Manatita, I totally agree, and I do enjoy your immensely, my friend. Thank you!

  9. Sageleaf July 13, 2017 at 4:21 pm #

    Just hoppin’ by to say hello, my friend! Hope you’re well. I love those long-sentence freaky sentences. Dickens was amazing at it, too. And you can’t teach that. I’m having a cup of tea at the “Black Cap” Cafe in Stowe, Vermont. So much writing fodder on this trip! lol.
    Sending you hugs and hope you are well! Thinking of Frank, too, and hope he’s enjoying life to the fullest. HUGS!

    • Billybuc July 13, 2017 at 8:25 pm #

      Thanks Lil Sis! Enjoy Stowe. I still miss my days in Vermont, so I’ll have to re-live them vicariously through your adventure. Hugs, my friend.

  10. Christy B July 13, 2017 at 6:33 pm #

    I agree with you Bill that sometimes we have to scoot around the rules to express ourselves in writing. I have met people who disagree but I’m on your side. I will end on a cheesy note – you “hit this one out of the park!” ~ get it? Baseball humor, gotta love it (gotta or got to) ~ rebel me 😉 HUGS and enjoy your day!

    • Billybuc July 13, 2017 at 6:59 pm #

      I definitely love it, Christy! I’ll take baseball humor any old day,my friend.

      Thank you and hugs from Olympia

  11. Michael Milec July 16, 2017 at 2:07 am #

    “They either have it or they don’t”. They-we all-everyone h a v e it. It is some special gift as “I” have received as a particular talent, must find out early in youth then work and work and work on it (practice?!) – perfecting it!. Bill my friend I knew it’s true as soon as you said it, since it has been centuries ago recorded “No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given him from heaven.” So, it is given to each person individually, uniquely- not two equal in whole wide world. (Some do have better chances to perfect their “gift”. As for poor kid Michael , early before attending school on margin of the old news paper I was putting together long sentence of my saying… ( The News paper during ww2 was a rear commodity shared among friends and relatives, my father was the last one getting one out there in nowhere farm.)…
    After that up to now, a gradual improvement happening : I read or write when less tired after hard daily work , hoping for those sunshine days when I would become less “retired”.
    Blessing always dear friend.

    • Billybuc July 16, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

      Michael my friend, I love your reflections….the past…the present…your hopes and dreams….your strength and the source of your strength. Thank you for sharing it with us, and blessings to you always.

  12. Karen Szklany Gault July 20, 2017 at 9:01 pm #

    Great analogy, Bill! As always, I enjoyed your blog post. ~:0)

    • Billybuc July 21, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

      I appreciate that, Karen! Thank you!

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