Many moons ago, when I first started getting serious about writing, I was completely and totally consumed with the idea of doing everything according to the rules. I rushed to the library at every free moment, to pore over guide-books and how-to books and stuff my straining book bag with style guides and any book I could find that mentioned writing.
I don’t regret the hours that I spent reading and re-reading these books. I don’t regret the hours I sat in front of my computer looking up articles about writing (between hopping off the internet so my mom could use the phone — I don’t miss dial up). I don’t regret learning the rules, the structure. The thing was, the more I studied the rules, the more stagnant and dry my writing became. I got so concerned about structure, that I forgot about art, I forgot about flow.
I realize now that the very structure I was trying to commit to was the same sort of structure that pissed me off so badly when I took art in college. My instructor would constantly nit-pick at little details in my work, and while I appreciated her eye, I never fully agreed with her. I don’t think you can ever truly grade art, just like I feel like you can never truly grade writing (I’m not talking to you, kids in school! Listen to your teachers)! Art and writing are about freedom. Why would I want mine to look like everyone else’s?
There are important things to be mindful of when you write. You know, like, grammar for one (although even GRAMMAR is sometimes a stylistic choice). But really, truly, we as writers should strive to politely break the rules. Why politely? So that we can remain friends with the rules… eh, maybe distant acquaintances. Besides, you just can’t go around breaking things like a bull in a china shop.
No, you at least say hi to the owners first, THEN go on your rampage.
Isn’t it funny that the the more you write, the more “experts” you run into? People who tell you things can only be done one way, who rant and yell if you go against their sovereign wishes?
To help you along the way to writerly freedom, I’ve prepared some practice answers to common disdainful comments:
Disdainful person: “That’s an overused trope!”
You: “Your face is an overused trope!”
Disdainful person: “Don’t use that many adverbs!”
You: “I am quietly and happily ignoring you.”
Disdainful person: “This sentence is way too descriptive.”
You: “I apologize for disturbing your sensitive and unique sense of elaborated descriptors. How ever will I go about making this up to you, my genius and all-knowing counterpart?”
Disclaimer: I cannot be held responsible for injuries received after use of the above comments. Please learn to run fast or laugh like you didn’t mean it before slinking away and hiding under you desk until the coast is clear.
There are rules that I do agree with. I’m not a huge fan of adverbs. That doesn’t make them wrong. That also doesn’t make them right.
Learn the rules, yes. Rules are important. Befriend the rules. Good. Now, keep the rules at a distance. Bend them. Learn how to dance around them. Laugh at them. Give them chocolate once in awhile to keep them quiet.
The wise Pablo Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
And the wise Captain Barbosa from Pirates of the Caribbean said, in regards to the pirate code, “They’re more like guidelines than actual rules.”
Cheers and high-fives to you, Pablo and Barbosa. You guys got this figured out.
Here’s my point:
Know the rules.
Then break the rules.
I won’t tell mom.
Pssst. Your writing will thank you for it.