Are Rules for Fools?

In writing, there are no rules. You do not have to conform to grammar. Spelling is optional and punctuation, well, who needs it? It’s just a lot of messing around with detail, really. Completely unnecessary and rather annoying. And time consuming. Actually, writing is much simpler when you don’t worry about this stuff.

People get upset with this concept. But, but, but, but, they say. You can’t do this! You must conform! Chaos will ensue! Even people who say there are no rules invariably string a ‘but’ after that statement, if you know what I mean. But, they say. And then they say, having said that. And having said that, they will go on to tell you that although there are no rules, there are some rules after all.

Confused? You should be. Because when it comes to writing advice and definitive solutions to those myriad everyday challenges presented to a writer, from within and without, in the words of the great William Goldman, no one knows anything.

Except for me, that is. I know everything.

Rules are unbending. They are black and white. You can’t break them. Unless more people break them than keep to them. Then the rules are changed. Yet rules do not apply to writing. I am sorry – not really – if you find that statement annoying, but it is true. You can write whatever you like, in whatever form you like and even make up your own grammar, spelling and language. And you are not restricted by technology. A manual typewriter is fine, as is a pen or a pencil. You can even scratch on a cave wall with a sharp rock, with the confidence that over the fullness of time your graffiti etchings will go on from environmental vandalism to become art.

Like I said, there are no rules in writing. And there are no rules to dictate how you express yourself through your writing.

But. There, I said it. There is a but. Not a but, there are rules, but a but about something else. Something to bear in mind when you consider the implications of your writing and the wider goal of writing, if your writing ambitions extend beyond self-fulfilment. And it’s this:

But if you want to write for an audience…

… there are still no rules. There are conventions. Expectations. Boundaries, even. Are they rules? Of course not. Didn’t you read the earlier paragraphs? These conventions are dictated, perhaps demanded, by your reader. They form the parameters of what they find acceptable. They expect you to write within them and do not take kindly if you stray outside of those lines. There is latitude within them, but, on the whole they know what they like and the way they want it presented. When they read, they want to see – like Hollywood film producers demand of a script – something that is the same, but different.

It may be counter-intuitive, but herein lies the beauty and allure of writing. If these conventions and expectations were rules they would be static and unchanged. But we know they are not. We only have to read novels from twenty, fifty or a hundred years ago – or more – to see how expectations and conventions have changed. It is no stretch of imagination to see no difference, for example, between yesterday’s Sherlock Holmes readership and that of Jack Reacher today. Stylistically, they are worlds apart, yet essentially they tell the same stories.

Writers across all writing spheres have forced the change in tastes and style and language by testing boundaries, stretching conventions and circumventing expectations. By stealth, they have changed their readers.

Writers, that is, who didn’t follow rules and allowed themselves the freedom to explore their craft.