Practical Authorship: Have we included too many rules for writing?

Quill_penI’ve written recently about the various things you should do when writing, and, perhaps more importantly, about the things that you shouldn’t do.  But there is a risk that you take me a little too literally.  

There is a brilliant rule in George Orwell’s Essay “Politics and the English Language” which states “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”  This is worth dwelling upon.  There are risks to being rigid or robust about writing, and chief among these is that you might suppress creativity.  I’m a big fan of ee cummings, and would regard “I thank You God for most this amazing” as a startling piece of work which uses language in a way I could not imitate adequately in a lifetime of writing.

 

There is also the risk that by imposing rules in writing I am simply perpetuating the hegemony of How You Must Express Yourself in our society.  This struck me particularly listening to this poem where the author/performer describes, more adequately than I could, that my correction of her expression is itself a way of simply shutting her up.

 

So, what to conclude?  When I first took over editing E&P I worried that that the informality of what I called the Epistle at the front of the journal might degrade people’s enjoyment.  The feedback, however, was that people enjoyed the chatty style – and enjoyed that I’d allowed a bit of personality to come through.  I decided that as long as people read at least part of the the journal, I would brush aside any accusation of dumbing down – on the basis that erudite content that is never read is pointless.  So I conclude that we should write to be read, and in that, I hope my tips help you to be read, rather than intimidate.

(If you can read these ‘rules’ as you read a guideline – the concentrated, considered advice of someone really honestly trying to support folk in doing the best in the majority of situations – you might help youself in both directions. Bob)

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