I recently caused a bit of a stir on one of the writing boards that I frequent as I dared to suggest that once a writer has mastered the craft of writing that they should feel free to ‘break the rules’. I was of course referring to that rampantly over used trope of ‘show don’t tell’. Every writer in the twenty first century has been ballyragged and a lot of those bamboozled by the show/tell instruction and that in itself could be a debate. However what I found interesting was the manner in which the debate ran. You had the really new, just started writing commentators who were looking to learn more and contribute, the under confident contributors who left comments but tried to take up as little space as possible, the experienced but belligerently anti-authoritarian raging against the machine (guess which category I fit into so far!!) and then you had the ‘experienced’ writers. You may ask why I put that category as ‘experienced’, but I do so because so many ‘experts’ online seem to spend a large proportion of their time telling you a) How much experience they have or b) spend the rest of their time trying to belittle or devalue anyone who doesn’t measure up to their standard. Such a small portion of their time seems to be given in actually giving advise in a respectful, helpful way that is conducive to a more informed, supportive and intellectually based debate that enriches the community.
The title of the thread, though somewhat challenging, gave an unexpected returned rage from ‘established, experienced authors’. It was, to be true a baptism by fire. It seems that there is a somewhat divisive line in the writing community among some traditionally published authors who feel they have earned the right to have the last word on every subject and the writers who are self published or currently working on their novel who are expected to simply bow down and pretend they have learnt nothing in the decades they have been writing. I hope, like any one who is trying to master a craft that like me people will accept that they have much to learn to hone their craft and perfect their writing. But I found the arbitrary division (made by a writer on the same board) that only traditionally published authors with at least three traditionally published books need bother being listened to not only elitist nonsense but a somewhat desperate attempt to maintain their placing in a archaic and increasingly irrelevant hierarchical society. Are you shitting me? Yes getting a book traditionally published will give you experience and opportunity to have your novel critiqued. But there are plenty of traditionally published novels that I would not describe as being well written (although this is of course a subjective term) and some self published and small publisher novels that equal and surpass some of the traditionally published novels. But the point is not to compare and contrast, the point is that like everything we can not reduce people to simply defined groups such as traditionally published – good. Self published – lazy. Which is the pathetically under nuanced argument I have seen put forward.
It was unexpected for me to find writers who seemed to feel the need to receive outside validation via the gatekeepers of the community – that is by being accepted by traditional publishers they feel their ‘talent’ and ‘ability’ as writers has been acknowledged. It seems that some in the community feel that writing for twenty years means nothing unless you’ve been given the proverbial locker room smack on the ass approval by a small and some what contrary group of gatekeepers who work for a publishing house that exist to make money. I simply can not understand why writers can not have the backbone to stand beside their work proudly. Perhaps that is the nature of our society that we place too much value on how others value us rather than simply learning to be comfortable in our own skins.
I hope to make it clear however, that I believe that not all traditionally published authors use the traditional publishing route to simply to get outside validation, there are of course other great advantages to being published by an established publisher. The few I mention, merely shout the loudest.
Unfortunately in all the whoo- ha my original point got slightly lost. Writers should strive to learn the craft, to perfect the art of writing, but once they have they should not be complacent about the rules of writing that are repeated ad infinitum without challenging why and if they are still valid rules for the modern writer.
The writing community is dynamic and diverse, we are creative and capitalists. We speak with one voice and many, every voice should be heard and every view seen and debated. Not everyone within a community will find that all the ‘rules’ work for them, or that they work in exactly the same way as other writers. That doesn’t make any of the many views wrong, it simply reinforces the fact that there are many paths to the same end.
Next time I will actually broach the subject of the rules of writing, but I end this post with an oft used quote.
There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are – W. Somerset Maugham