Amateur writers are often naturally susceptible to the claims of “experts” – those who present themselves as authorities in the field of writing. You’ve all read them in text books or maybe in a book on the writing craft you’ve read. These are people who give us, the learners, the seekers, the “rules” by which we must write, if we write in search of the elusive prize of publication. Add to those experts a long and growing list of editors, agents and authors with Internet presence.
I’m re-reading a book I went through months ago. It had a great impact on me for a couple of reasons. First, the author is a man who worked to develop a workshop teaching homeless people how to write. He got them to expound their experiences and lives and distill it into the workshop. Over the many years of working with these individuals, he developed a class-type setting which works with or without a teacher. The workshop was wildly successful and many of those homeless had their stories published in the imprint he later started, and by the educational board of the county in which he started the workshops.
Anyway, in the book, he provides this piece of advice, with a caveat later in the chapter:
…beware of books that propose to give you rules. Beware of giving up your own quirkiness for someone else’s strictures. Rely on your own firsthand inspections and your own creative drives.
The author goes on to explain he does not mean to ignore standard rules of grammar and style for English. Those must be learned first. To bend the rules effectively you must first learn them perfectly. Like an artist who wants to draw superheroes, you must learn to draw the human body accurately first.
What do you think? Is this good advice, or is this a mistake? Do we shoot ourselves in the foot by not writing the way we’re told we have to write? Should we chase every whim of editor and agent and follow every breeze of literary wind rushing by us? Or do we do best when we learn what we must about our language and then ply our trade to our own voice, style, method and way?
Sound off, writers. I’m interested in what you’ve got to say.
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