I wrote my first story when I was eight years old.
It was about pirates and aliens – look I was eight ok? I’d probably cringe if I read it now. Maybe not… we all start somewhere do we not?
As I got older, I wrote more and more. Some of my work was embraced by the school I was at, with teachers encouraging me. Some I hid away as being too “personal.” The story I consider my very first serious attempt at writing is called “The Mirror” – a story about a thirteen-fourteen year old boy who discovers a mirror in the middle of a forest, a magic mirror, that can take him any place he wants – to any world he can imagine. The only catch? He has to exit the mirror before sundown or become trapped as a reflection forever…
It was all written in pen and ink, I still have some of the (now) faded pages. No idea what happened to the rest. But I remember showing this story to a local author who lived in my village – he worked for the BBC at the time writing scripts for them, even wrote scripts for the local am-dram group as well. I don’t know what possessed me to ask a professional writer for their opinion. Maybe I just wanted to know if I was wasting my time…
He wasn’t prompt in returning that story to me, and I foolishly had given him the only copy of it I had. But he did eventually return it, by post no less. (I’d handed it to him person as he lived only fifteen minutes away from me). He’d written all over it, notes, comments, spelling and grammar corrections and then a nice long note attached at the back.
That I still have, and one of the things that stands out from what he had to say was that I needed “to learn the rules of creative writing, before submitting work again in the future. Good effort.”
Ironically he didn’t actually list what the “rules of creative writing” were, and in the last thirty or so years it’s phrase I’ve heard time and again.
But what are the rules?
In fact, are there any hard and fast rules?
You see, I’ve been asked – and the thing is, I don’t consider myself to be an authority on how to write. The only rule I’ve ever stuck to is: If you want to write, write.
Out of curiosity, I had a look around to see if there are actually any hard and fast rules. This is the best (in my humble opinion) article I could find on the net on the subject: “Ten rules for writing fiction.”
I hope you took the time to read it all, both pages, because one of the things that article highlights to me is that there are no rules.
The authors in the Guardian’s article are all published, professional, writers who make a living from it. Each of them has their own rules, their own personal rules, for how to write. And I think it’s important to qualify this; these are the “rules” that work for them individually.
Creative writing, like anything else artistic, is an individual thing. Trying to bind it up in rules of how a story must be constructed, must flow, must be – is horrendously wrong. Writers are individuals, and should be creating their own style, not aping ones that already exist. The world already has one Stephen King, one J R R Tolkien, one Agatha Christie, one Roald Dahl… Their styles are their own and what makes their work so unique and original. It’s what made – makes – their work theirs. I don’t want to be the “next Stephen King” or – as in more likely in my case – the “next Barbara Cartland.” I want to be me – James Snaith, with my own style, my own ideas and what is original to me.
When people start talking about the rules of writing what they are saying is; these are the things that work for me.
But that doesn’t mean they are going to work for you.
Develop your own voice, your own way and your own style. By all means look at what other people are erroneously calling the “rules” and remember that they are not “rules” but guidelines used by that individual writer. If you choose to follow a method another writer uses, by all means do; but don’t be bound by it.
I would love, LOVE, for someone to actually use the term guidelines rather than rules when discussing how they write.
I personally have no hard and fast guidelines to share, other than if you want to be a writer: write. Anything else is incidental and subject to what you’re actually writing about. If you feel you need to attend a writing course, do so – BUT, remember; courses and rules won’t teach you how to write…
Actually, that’s the point of all this; “rules,” “guidelines” and “courses” can’t teach you how to write, only a way to write. In the end, you have to have find your own voice – in the end it’s you who has to write.
The truth is there are no hard and fast rules to creative writing. But if there were, I’d like to think the first rule on that list would be; Find your own voice.