The freedom to get it wrong


Watching the fish in the pond this morning, I noticed that although they all swim, as you would expect from fish, they all swim differently. The huge sturgeon glide through the water with no appearance of effort at all. The one poorly fish with suspected dropsy expends huge amounts of effort to get around…yet the fat fish, who is the same size and shape, but just greedy rather than ill, swims as well as the rest of them. The ghost koi use their tails visibly to propel them at a sedate pace through the water…except Happy Fish, who zips around at top speed, jumping and playing for a few minutes then has to rest on a planting shelf for a while.  The orfe, however, use their whole bodies to slice through the water… or power through it when they want to clear the area. They all take a different approach to doing essentially the same thing.

Seals swim too, so do penguins and whales…and frogs and turtles. Their manner of swimming depends upon how they are made. They all propel themselves perfectly through the water, with regard to and within the limitations of their own form and their own needs.

I remember being castigated by our games teacher for my swimming style. While my backstroke was good enough to represent the school, my breast-stroke was never up to her standards … and the less said about my crawl the better.

I often wondered who made the rules on style and why. Is it a legitimate case of energy efficiency or an aesthetic decision? All I knew was that if I fell in the water, I’d be more likely to worry about staying alive than winning prizes for style.

As I watched the fish in the pond, I asked myself… of all the creatures who move through the waters of the earth, who swims right?

It is not a question about whose method is the most energy-efficient, the most hydrodynamic, the most effective at escaping predators or catching prey. It isn’t even about the beauty of their movements or their agility in the water.

Who gets it right?

Who could possibly have the arrogance to judge between, say, otters and salmon? How would you define the rules of style and method when both are so very different in their form and need? Could you even judge between Happy Fish and his pondmates? All of them are ghost koi, but all are different in personality, desire and their means of self-expression.

Yet, we expect ourselves to conform to accepted styles all the time. We judge one ‘better’ than another by accepted standards that we seldom even question. Who made them? Who decides whether Van Gogh is a better painter than Bruegel or an Aboriginal artist?

Who is so perfect at what they do that they dare to write a style manual or impose defining criteria of ‘rightness’ on any endeavour, large or small?

For writers, there are so many ways to be judged wrong. Some of them make a certain amount of sense. Spelling and punctuation, for example, are largely universal within any language… they are designed to be symbols of communication, showing what should be read and how it should be read. But other criteria? Style manuals? I am not so sure.

Fashions change in writing, just as in any other art form and what was true for Dickens or Shakespeare and their contemporaries would be unacceptable to the literary fashionistas of today. It is their content, not their style, that really stands the test of time. Most of the other ‘rules’ of how to write serve only the bank accounts of the publishers, who want a safe bet for their money.

Granted, if you want to hit the bestseller list, you are more likely to succeed in getting that book deal, advance and promotion if you adhere to the rules as laid out in the style manuals. It is also true that writing mainstream fiction that sits neatly in one, perhaps two, of the accepted categories is far more likely to appeal to a broad readership in search of an entertaining read, than if you write something odd or challenging. But does that mean no-one should step outside of fashion and create a style of their own?

I do not think so. In fact, I feel that by forcing oneself to conform to a prescribed style…unless it is a style that feels ‘right’… we risk stifling the natural flow of a writer’s voice and inspiration… and may lose something unique in the attempt to conform.

One of the real joys of the Indie publishing movement is that there are so many writers out there now who are doing their own thing. To me, that is cause for celebration. Regardless of whether a story seems well or poorly penned to some, it will appeal to someone… and even if it did not, it was penned in an act of creation, and  creativity is one of the greatest gifts of humanity.

There are millions of blogs out there… and the blogosphere is a veritable hotbed of creativity with many people writing every day, in every possible style, on every subject under the sun…. and people are reading those blogs. Even this little blog has had over half a million views*. We are sharing knowledge, opinions, stories and thoughts. We are actively seeking out the weird, the wonderful, the practical or the inspirational… we are learning, laughing and benefiting from sharing in a global community of creativity.

I find that incredibly beautiful and hopeful… a true expression of the human spirit in all its complexities, from the totally ridiculous to the sublime.

So, next time you pick up a pen or are poised over the keyboard… don’t let anything tell you that you should swim like a tadpole if you feel yourself to be a frog.


*The small dog insists that it is all down to her and, I admit, she is probably right. She has always been cuter than me and far more likely to win hands down if we were in competition. But as this is neither a popularity nor a beauty contest, I feel qualified to speak for the pair of us on this occasion and say a huge thank you to everyone who reads what we write.

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About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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61 Responses to The freedom to get it wrong

  1. Scott says:

    You are gifted.


  2. Hi Sue – what an excellent analogy. I’m so glad to be seeing this! You are right about style and I think the explosion of the indie author market is proving this. I think if writers follow the basic grammar and spelling rules, anything else goes. And in some instances, all rules can go out the window because of the POV or setting. Happy writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Hi Barbara,
      I am loving watching Indies storm the creative scene and seeing so many things ‘out there’ that would never have made it past a publisher’s desk. Spelling and reasonable homage to grammar are a must, but other than that? No innovation was ever made without breaking the rules 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Ritu says:

    Oh Sue ! I agree wholeheartedly!!! I tried the conforming. It doesn’t work for me! I prefer to write how I feel comfortable!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an interesting and thought provoking post. I loved reading it. I have com across a number of people who, I consider, to be highly talented, yet receive little recognition as far as I can see. Its all a bit of a mystery to me, cleared in part by this post, but still puzzling. Still, settling down to watch Wimbledon soon, and that is pleasantly free of these great questions !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Me too, Peter…but salesmanship and saleability go a long way in defining the accepted terms of ‘success’ in any artistic pursuit, sadly.
      However, I must take issue with you on one point… there is a HUGE question with Wimbledon.
      What is it that makes these small yellow balls so addictive? I live with an addict… and obsessive, even… the small dog cannot live without them…

      If I could find the magic ingredient and stick it in the books, I’d be laughing… 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  5. A wonderful comparision, and a great answer to the essential question why difference doesnt matter. Had your small dog even tried to swim, or more catching the fishes in the pond? LOL

    Have a beautiful weekend. 😉 Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: The freedom to get it wrong | Campbells World

  7. Helen Jones says:

    Reblogged this on Journey To Ambeth and commented:
    I love this post from Sue – a nice reminder that we each have our own path, our own voice to find, and to never let anything hold you back from the creative process 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Helen Jones says:

    Lovely post, Sue – and a timely reminder 🙂


  9. quiall says:

    hahaha I would swim with you two any day! And you did get me thinking . . .


  10. joyroses13 says:

    Great post! I love how your last line! 🙂


  11. Running Elk says:

    Ah, yes. Mr Fosbury has much to teach us all… 😉


  12. kirizar says:

    And even if we haven’t had a million views, personally I mean, we do as a collective. And as The Borg say, “Resistance is futile!”

    So, in non-geek words, we write to be heard and in that act our voice joins the flow of humanity reaching out beyond one’s self for connection and possibly, confirmation.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I tend to like writing that does stand out one way or another. I don’t believe we should have to conform to a style manual at all. 😞

    Liked by 1 person

  14. A lovely post, Sue. I notice on occasion that the books that grab me and make me take notice are the ones that aren’t following the “rules” precisely. There is something different about them. That difference might sabotage their chances of catching an agent’s eye, but they catch mine. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  15. This is… I love this so much. Not that I needed to hear it because my writing doesn’t “fit” anywhere. (Yes, Sue, I did need it.) I’ve been saying this for so long to others, I guess just not to myself. “by forcing oneself to conform to a prescribed style…we risk stifling the natural flow of a writer’s voice and inspiration… and may lose something unique in the attempt to conform.” This. Right here. That’s all I’m saying. ❤️💛💚💜💙🖤

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Wendy Janes says:

    What a lovely post, Sue. I love it when I’m reading a novel and I feel a connection with an author’s unique voice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      So do I, Wendy. Although with a novel we are told the writer ‘should’ be invisible, they never are… you get a feel for their style and voice and that’s what makes some writers stand head and shoulders above the rest for us.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. noelleg44 says:

    Wonderful, Sue, and all from your observations of a bunch of fish. Now THAT is creativity. We can all choose what we want to be and write – and that makes us human! I guess I have to extend that to Ani as well?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Thanks, Noelle. Watching fish is a very productive way of passing time 🙂

      As to Ani..that dog needs no more encouragement, Noelle 😉 She’s already taken over the sofa, fridge and pantry…

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Jennie says:

    Perfectly said!


  19. jenanita01 says:

    Quite simply, ‘right’ is what you feel comfortable with. I was going to say ‘normal’ but there really is no such thing, is there? Lovely post, Sue!


  20. dgkaye says:

    Lovely post Sue. The beauty of writing is the uniqueness we all bring to the pages. ❤


  21. Your small dog has a wonderful expression and it weaves naturally into your observations here. If the creative process needs to ‘fit’ a norm, then who created the ‘norm’? Here’s to authentic expression and the explosion of Indie creativity. Great post Sue, thank you. x


    • Sue Vincent says:

      Thanks, Jane. Yes, I agree… the ‘norm’ need only be a measure against which to stand, not a goal to reach.
      As to the small dog… she has the most expressive face of any dog I know 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  22. One of the great advantages of the rise in indie authors is the range of writing we’re seeing now, Sue. Great analogy


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