We all have our own way of doing things. As authors we have our own creative streak that we bring to the table when we sit down to flesh out our tales. For some, sticking to the rules we were taught in our composition classes in school is difficult at best. We have all memorized the rote rules: “I before E except after C” and the like. My spelling was so atrocious when I was in school that my composition papers looked like they had the measles, there were so many red marks on them! Spelling aside, is there a “right” way to write?
I have been doing a little reading on Linked In, Twitter and Facebook; looking into groups and reading blogs and posts. I have noticed that some people are sticklers for the “rules” and some are not. So when we break the “rules”, are we not “good writers”? Is writing about following the conventions or about setting down what is in our hearts, even if that means that we use language in unconventional ways? Every writer has a different approach to writing; in my opinion, rules are great, they give us a guideline to go by; but sometimes, rules were meant to be broken. There are times when we just need to express ourselves in ways that go against the grain of traditions and there is just no reason to hold back or try to make what we want to say fit into someone else’s idea of what is right and what is wrong.
I am a big proponent of reading. I believe if you want to be a writer, you first have to be a reader. I encourage people I know to read everything and anything they can in order to better learn to express themselves. Does that mean that our styles have to match the styles of the greats in our field? In a word – no; I don’t believe that we need to match ourselves to anyone, as a matter of fact, in our field, originality is what counts. Now, that is not to say go completely off the deep end and write in a disorganized, fragmented way. Our goal is to express ourselves, but it is also to get published and gain readers. If you pick up a book and have to work to understand every single sentence the author wrote, how long do you think you would be reading that book? Clear and concise are good guidelines to follow, unless you are trying to portray a character who is confused or you are purposefully trying to be ambiguous for the sake of your storyline.
Another practice that I feel needs to be touched on is whether or not to outline. Some authors say you must outline your entire novel before you begin, others suggest outlining a chapter or two at a time, while others feel that outlining spoils their own sense of discovery and suspense. In my opinion, everyone is right; no one is wrong. What is important is following the path that works best for you.
I have seen posts where people will comment that the advice given is not the “right” way to write. I am not pointing fingers at these individuals; they are entitled to their own style. What I am saying is that we authors should have our own styles and not have to count on the approval of others as to whether or not we have “done it right”. There is no one “right way” in creative expression. Learn from others, read what you can, and then write from your heart. A good place to learn more about others’ styles and to grow in your own style is in critique groups and at writer’s conventions. Listen to what other authors are saying and writing and take from it what you want; discard what you don’t want. One person’s garbage can be another person’s treasure, as the saying goes. Not everyone is going to like your style and that is ok, as long as you like your style. Of course if your publishing company, editor or agent asks you to change something, you would be wise to consider it, but that does not mean that you have to take every suggestion. If you know that the story would lose some of its effect if you make the change, then stand up for your story. Conversely, really listen to and consider what you are being asked to do. Sometimes we are too close to our own work to truly see that another way may be more effective.
Don’t worry about convention, about right and wrong; just worry about expressing yourself in the best way you can and painting a vivid picture with your words. If your story comes to life for your readers, you have done your job as a writer. What I have learned from my experience is: break the rules when necessary, listen to and discern the useful from the not so useful advice, and be the writer you are meant to be. What is one thing your experience has taught you?