When we first learn about creative writing, we are confronted with a surfeit of “rules”. We are exposed to all the dos and don’ts that have ever been dreamt up and become accepted by a majority of educationalists. They even sound sensible, logical, at the time. Sadly, they are also passed on without any thought as to whether they are of any real value.
Of course there are some things which should be observed, such as good grammar. Some other rules, though, should be at least challenged, if not ignored entirely. Of these, there is one huge one: Write what you know about.
“Write what you know about”
This rule is an enormous trap for the aspiring author! Yes, it’s easiest to draw upon the things you are most familiar with, but is that truly creative? I would suggest not. It’s fair enough to draw on your experiences but they are, in simple fact, limited. If you start your life as a writer in, say, your teens, you don’t usually have a vast experience of life. So you have to seriously consider severely amending this rule, or abandoning it entirely. If you wish to write fiction, chances are you’ll need to research some things, to expand on the knowledge you bring to your tale. For example, a crime novel may involve something you are extremely unlikely to have any knowledge of. If you plunge into heroic fantasy, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have much knowledge of swords and sorcery.
It has to be true that if you only write what you know about, all you’ll end up with is a series of memoirs. You have to expand beyond your knowledge. It’s one of the truly fantastic aspects of being an author, the fact that you will be forever learning new things! Obeying this rule would damage your increasing knowledge. I suspect that writers learn more every year than folk in any other sphere of activity.
Don’t be constrained by arbitrary rules
Ultimately, you will be judged by your writings. You won’t be judged, by the average reader, on whether or not you have obeyed some rules and ignored others. It is the quality and uniqueness of your work that matters, above all else! The reader doesn’t know whether you are a lawyer or a vagrant, nor do they care. All they care about is whether you have produced something they can enjoy reading. It needs to show some understanding of the subject matter, of course, but that’s what research is for. It can be thought provoking or hilariously funny, it can be a thrilling roller coaster ride or a scorching romance. All that matters is that it is satisfying!
The structure of writing
I’ve seen situations where people who have a natural gift for story-telling become fettered by being obedient to rules. Perhaps it’s better to tell a great story badly than not all. Sadly, one area that they get fouled up in isn’t even that involving “the rules” – it’s trying to be true to structural theory! They obediently adhere to preparing their story, fitting it into a structural outline, regardless of all else. They have missed the idea entirely! The idea of structured writing is to provide guidelines for yourself. You don’t have to adhere to any system that doesn’t actually suit you. If careful planning, plot outlining, word-sketching, and all such things, work for you, that’s fair enough. If you can only tell your story by writing freely, without all the extra work to worry about, then go for it! If you feel that the finished article needs some extra polishing, or rearrangement, then that’s the time to go back over it. You’re very unlikely to ever write something that you will let stand without at least some editing.
Don’t crush your creativity under unnecessary burdens!