Hell, There Are No Rules Here – We’re Trying to Accomplish Something

That’s an Edison quote up there, and I kind of like it.

Thomas Edison used adverbs all day long

I get exposed to some fairly silly writing strictures now and again (note I don’t say “advice” – I see excellent advice all the time – what I’m talking about are things presented as iron-clad rules).

Hey, now I've worked Bell into this, too


Much of it, I suspect, originates from Strunk and White, which is problematic to begin with and becomes downright incoherent after people have played a game of telephone with it for a while and ignore the bits about everything in On Writing being a guideline.








Oh, hello Mr. Menken


First of all, Strunk and White weren’t making rules for fiction writers – if they were E.B. White might have followed a few of them when he wrote fiction.  But of course, we can’t blame Strunk and White for all these bizarre rules that pop up.  I think what is really to blame is a desire for simplicity.  Trying to write fiction is annoyingly complex, but of course for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.





If anyone could womp together a set of rules, hell, a bookful of rules that would always apply and always make writing better, this would be so easy anyone could do it.  The funny thing is, that whether it is Strunk and White or some other random person who writes a book on How to Write a Bestseller in 32 Days, they usually throw out some sort of caveat about how they are only presenting guidelines, but somehow that often gets lost in the shuffle.  Fortunately, most of the people that tell me what I’m doing wrong are clever enough to point out the specifics of why, for example, an adverb doesn’t work or a comma is misplaced rather than just telling me that “they” cannot have a singular antecedent, or that I must never end a sentence with a preposition or the like, but man, I see a lot of that sort of thing out there.

For me, this all comes down to flexibility.  I don’t find writing fiction to be so remarkably easy that I feel like limiting myself with arbitrary rules.  I need every tool I can get, and I don’t understand the writers who dump half their tools out on the floor before they even start.  Oh dear.  I seem to have committed a “my thoughts on writing” post.  Sorry about that.





~ by smwilliams on August 30, 2011.