Breaking the rules of creative writing

Regulations, bureaucracy and ‘guidelines’ pervade many aspects of modern life. This is especially true in public sector professions such as healthcare and teaching, but also affects workers in many other spheres including the self-employed. So I found it refreshing to hear from life coach Drew Rozell about a method of practice which he calls uncoaching. In summary, he suggests the best way is to ignore the rules – be yourself – and have fun!

Do these same principles apply for writers? I would say yes – to some extent. Like those in any other profession, writers do need to acquire relevant background knowledge and skills, respect certain ethical and legal standards, and devote sufficient time and effort to practising their craft. They can benefit greatly from attending courses, and seeking guidance and criticism from more experienced colleagues. This is all to the good if done in such a way as to help, and not hinder, development of each individual’s original ‘voice’.

Writers of fiction are often advised that a novel needs to fit a defined genre, conform to a standard structure, or be a certain length – see for example the detailed guidelines on the Mills & Boon websites. I realise there are sound commercial reasons for this, and that it is difficult for publishers to market books or for readers to find them unless they belong to a recognised category. But, if authors become too compliant with mainstream convention, the result may be an over-emphasis on form as opposed to content, and a stifling of creativity.

While writing these comments, I was reminded of the points for and against the ‘disease model’ used in orthodox medicine, which I discussed in my book Persons not Diseases. This model has enabled many advances in prevention and treatment, and it is obviously necessary to use some kind of classification in the healthcare setting. But if applied too rigidly or uncritically it can have drawbacks such as too much separation between medical specialties, unhelpful ‘labelling’ of patients, a poor deal for those whose symptoms do not fit with recognized patterns, and possibly discouraging new ideas and approaches. 

For writers, following a tried-and-tested recipe may well be the most reliable route to success. But, as a typical ‘Woman of Aquarius’ (see my other blog) I rate freedom as one of my top personal values and, for me, fulfilment through writing comes from original self-expression rather than the ability to follow a formula. This attitude has counted against me in the publication stakes and in younger days I wrote several novels which were given serious consideration by many publishers but always rejected in the end. The reason usually given was that they did not fit a recognised genre and were not good enough to flourish ‘outside the box’.  I don’t challenge that verdict, and if I ever look at those faded typescripts again I will probably be glad that they were not accepted.

But recently, after many years of non-fiction writing, I tried my hand at another novel and decided that in the modern era of independent publishing it is not so essential to conform to the guidelines. So I went straight for the indie option with Carmen’s Roses, now available on Amazon as both ebook and paperback. It breaks a number of the rules of creative writing. It is short, at 30,000 words. As ‘a story of mystery, romance and the paranormal’ it doesn’t fit any single category. It may not appeal to readers of my non-fiction books, with its different style and darker themes. But, if you’d like to take a look, here again is the link.

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