On Why the Rules of Writing Are Important

While frequenting online writing forums, I often find the following attitudes expressed:

  • There are no rules in writing.  Sometimes this outlook even extends to basic grammar.
  • Rules stifle creativity.
  • Writing is art, and, apparently, art can’t be learned.

If these were accomplished authors who had produced literary masterpieces, I wouldn’t be all that concerned.  For the most part, these complaints come from beginners who have no idea what they’re doing.  These are the people who end up giving self publishing a bad name by putting total dreck out there.

This weekend, I read a book on Technique in Fiction that addressed the comments above in its foreword.  The author related this story attributed to Leo Tolstoy (paraphrased from my memory):

If you ask a man if he can play the violin, he’ll either say he can or he can’t based on whether he has studied how to play the instrument.  If you ask a man if he can write fiction, he’ll say, “I don’t know.  I haven’t tried.”

The point, of course, is that the comment is ridiculous on the face of it.  Just like playing the violin, writing requires study and practice.

The rules of writing are summations of the combined wisdom of generations of authors passed down to give you guidance.  Do I advocate following any rule you read blindly?  Of course not, but, if you find advice from a reputable source, you certainly shouldn’t disregard it until you fully understand it.

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3 thoughts on “On Why the Rules of Writing Are Important

  1. Mastering a craft takes a commitment of time and effort. Among those with an artistic bent, like us writers, commitment is a loathsome word. Instead, art is separated from craft and somehow relies only on predisposition and innate, unrefined talent before it qualifies.

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