George Bernard Shaw famously declared -
‘The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.’
We have rules to create boundaries by which we can live safely. A simple example is road rules. In Australia we drive on the left and as a rule most people adhere to that. (Imagine the carnage if we didn’t!)
It is compulsory to wear a helmet when riding a push-bike, swimming pools must be fenced and there has to be soft-fall on the ground in children’s playgrounds. These are just some of our many rules here in Australia.
If you are like me, you check your emails daily. Perhaps also, you find there are invariably some concerned with writing.
The types that say – ‘Avoid using this or it is better to do that.’
This got me thinking about how the myriad writing rules or suggestions affect spontaneity.
I wondered if for example, Charles Dickens worried about run-on sentences when he appeared to be more concerned with poverty and the lack of social welfare in Britain at the time.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair..." from A Tale of Two Cities
Equally, was Jane Austen anxious about adverbs and adjectives when writing about the delicate and sometimes risky economic situations the women of that era found themselves in? It seems she also got away with double negatives as shown below.
"She owned that, considering everything, she was not absolutely without inclination for the party." from Emma
When hunched over a small table and squinting by candlelight, were these great writers constrained by the so-called writing rules? It seems not.
On researching this, I found articles saying ‘Never open a story with the weather.’ Use patois sparingly. Avoid exclamation points and the old chestnut, ‘Show Don’t Tell’ can be found everywhere!
V.S. Naipaul recommends never write long sentences, a maximum of 10-12 words (sorry, Mr Naipaul, I failed you in this blog!)
Use the active voice unless specifically requiring the passive and don’t get me started on irregular past participles and those awful dangling modifiers! There are times when I’m convinced I slept through some English lessons at school or like taxation laws, have new rules have been introduced merely to confuse?
After writing that first draft do you go back to the beginning and alter this or delete that aware that unless you do, it may cost you the writing competition? What if the judge is known to have a predilection about this or that, do you adjust your writing to better your chances?
Are there rules that really annoy and frustrate you and inhibit free-flowing, spontaneous writing?
Or in conclusion, do you ignore the rules and scribble darn right spontaneously?
Then again, maybe you think like G.K Chesterton did when he declared...
‘There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.