Yesterday I went to a seminar on the science of education. The speaker was Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman, and he presented some tips on teaching and learning in the sciences that I realized could also apply to writers.
Dr. Wieman's first point was that novices and experts in a field have different belief systems. Novices believe that the things they learn function as individual pieces to be memorized. They believe this information is handed down to them from authority figures. And, their technique for problem solving is to match a given problem to something they had memorized and learned to solve before.
Experts, on the other hand, believe that the content of a subject matter can be organized and grouped in coherent ways. They believe that information is based on the observations in nature and that problem-solving can be approached by concept-based strategies that are widely applicable.
The problem with this difference is that most classes are taught with novices in mind. Individual pieces of information are presented, and teachers expect them to be memorized. And, what happens, is that novices leave a class feeling more novice-like than they did before they started. They are MORE scared of the subject matter they wanted to master.
How does this apply to us?
Well, think about all the things we are learning from each other, all these so-called rules: no adverbs, no telling, no shifts in tense, and on and on and on. If we try to memorize all of these things as individual rules that we must apply because people tell us to, we will forever be novices. If we approach them as novices, we will stay novices.
But, if we are able to organize these rules, know what their function is, then they become tools for solving a bigger problem. We will be able to USE the rules rather than FOLLOW them.
So, I'd like to suggest that we writers organize all these rules. Instead of memorizing them as individual pieces, let's let them fall into a broader category, dominated by the bigger rule, WRITE AN INTERESTING BOOK.
If you are faced with taking out an adverb or making the book less interesting, keep the adverb. If not telling also makes the book not interesting, then tell. These rules are meant to serve a bigger purpose, and we should all keep this purpose in mind.
So, where are you? Do you consider yourself a novice or an expert? And, if you're calling yourself a novice, what will it take for you to change your mind?