The freedom to get it wrong

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Watching the fish in the pond the other day, 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.

About Sue Vincent

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

  1. Jen Goldie says:

    😊Thank you Sue.🐸Ribbit!! 😊💜

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Ritu says:

    Absolutely love this, Sue. I agree 100% who made the rules, indeed?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sadje says:

    This is so right and wonderfully written Sue. Let’s all do out open thing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. s.s. says:

    I love the title of your post. It’s my motto for today😃 Thank you Sue

    Liked by 1 person

  5. TanGental says:

    My analogy defers to spot and specifically cricket. The MCC coaching manual was my bible as a youngman. I mimicked how to bat and bowl from those pen and ink drawings but… it was only when i adapted them to my physique that I learnt how to get the most out of them. Today I watch and listen and glory be the increase in eccentric styles at the top of the game is a joy to behold. By common consent the top batsman today – Steve Smith and Australian and fast bowler – Jasprit Bumrah of India are off the scale weird but in terms of outputs – runs and wickets – they work. They would have been coached to mediocrity 30 years ago. So yes let’s glory in not how you get ‘there’ but delight in the fact you do and in your own way.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. joylennick says:

    Excellent title, and piece, Sue. We are always being reminded how LIKE each other we are, and yet it’s the differences which make us so fascinating! The pedants can take a hike – creativity is vital. Hugs. Thinking of you. xx.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Goff James says:

    Thanks, Sue. Great post and very true.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. jenanita01 says:

    I have always believed that most rules were created so we could see how many ways they can be broken…

    Like

  9. Cathy Cade says:

    I’m currently reading a book by a well-known author, written before the books that brought fame (which I read when they were published, on my morning commute – well before I began writing). Back then, I read them for the story.
    Since retiring, I’ve taken a writing course and read acres of advice from bloggers and writing gurus. Now, reading these older novels (which, of course have rbeen epublished since the others’ success) I understand the critics who have panned this author’s writing. But head-hopping, adverbs and purple prose aside, the writer can tell a story, and that’s where I struggle.
    And that, in the end, is what counts.

    Like

  10. Well said!

    I’ve been declared unteachable when it comes to swimming. As I’ve pointed out to those who have tried – and failed – to teach me to conform to a particular style of swimming though, “I stay afloat, and I move in the direction I plan to go – that’s swimming.”

    As for the writing side of it: I said on another blog just yesterday how I completely agree that what works for one author – or story – may not work for another, and the “rules” of writing should only be considered guidelines most of the time.

    Like

  11. Darlene says:

    As always, well said. xo

    Like

  12. As Geoff has said, this applies to so much of life. As for the writing part, there are some interesting styles out there now that probably wouldn’t get past the slush pile of a publisher or agent, but they offer a good read to someone.

    Like

  13. I can relate to this, Sue. I know for a fact that I would not write to a formula. The whole point of writing for me is to follow my own creative path. I do get my books edited and follow the punctuation, spelling and writing rules as much as possible, but my story is completely unique.

    Like

  14. Love this post Sue.

    Like

  15. Mary Smith says:

    We could spend all our time worrying about ‘getting it right’ instead of getting it done!

    Like

  16. willowdot21 says:

    I swim like a brick! ..I do most things off kilter 💜

    Like

  17. Loving every minute of it!

    Like

  18. What a lovely post, Sue. The last line made me laugh to. Create away.

    Like

  19. Eliza Waters says:

    Indie publishing has been so freeing for so many voices that were never allowed expression to the general public with traditional publishing. For years, I dreamt of having my garden in a horticultural magazine, a high-reaching goal. Once I started blogging, I realized that in my own way, by publishing articles myself, I achieved that goal in a different way. The whole point was the sharing, not the recognition, that I was after. One’s inner creative drive must be expressed! 🙂

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I agree, Eliza, and as so much of our lives are now lived online, leaving no paper trail for the future, the various ways of Indie publishing will be an invaulable part of tomorrow’s social history and heritage.

      Like

  20. I know that I’m not a modern writer. I’m not sure if I ever was. I don’t think I have a style, but maybe I do and I don’t notice it? I am very wary in talking about a writer’s writing except congratulating them. Writers are sensitive creatures and never forget a bad review. I would never imagine I’m any kind of judge. On the other hand, I like this, rather than that. Is that judgmental? Is having any kind of a preference judgmental? I’m beginning to have doubts about the long-term effects of neutrality.

    Like

  21. Pingback: The freedom to get it wrong — Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo – Strider's Table

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