I've been reading Hold Still by Nina LaCour and desperately searching for reasons to hate it, but I can't. The agent who represents Ms. LaCour was one of my top choices and she rejected me, so I thought reading this would prove she had horrible taste. It didn't work out that way, but I'm grateful because Hold Still is so beautiful and real, and so much of it feels spontaneous. I haven't gotten the feeling that I often get in other books where it seems like the writer knows she's being really slick by adding a certain line or taking the story in a certain direction. The characters just are, as if they've been waiting in this suburb outside of Berkeley for her to spy on them.
Along with reading published books, I've also been catching-up on critiques for the lovely ladies in my critique group. It's amazing how much I learn from reading someone else's work and seeing their critiques of mine. One thing I've been particularly sensitive to lately is the need to respect those experimental things that pop-up when you really get into your story. A character says something that you would never think to say, or does something that you would never do, but it just happens. You're sitting there, documenting this world that doesn't exist anywhere else, and things just start happening. That's where the magic happens, and it's so important to remember that. Learning all the rules about not beginning too many sentences with "I" even though you're writing in first person, or using the active voice, that's important from a technique stand-point, but the risk-taking is what lets you create something original. It's not always going to work. Just because something is really different and came out of your story organically doesn't mean it will always fit into the polished final product, but you need to get into the zone and respect what comes out of it to get the really good ideas.
Not that I'm this terrific authority on writing or anything, but since I'm coming out of my own slump, I think it's worth sharing that the best way to get good stuff on paper is to let yourself go and have fun. Sure, you'll need to revise it later, but that can wait.