Firstly, your chances of becoming rich with creative writing are slim at best.
Secondly, also your chances of ending up in a jail if you pursue a career in creative writing are pretty slim.
Lastly, creative writing is aimed at a public as wide and eager as possible whereas the gurus, so to speak, of creative accountancy aim at being read by as few people as possible. And the more the reading is superficial and inattentive, the better.
I know, I know. From this point of view, creative accountancy seems a lot more thrilling than creative writing. I mean, with all that money, the ever-looming risk of imprisonment, and who knows what else…
Creative writing and rules. This needs not to happen
But the truth isn’t always immediately obvious. And in fact, creative writing offers writers and readers alike the opportunity to experience sheer pleasure without having to resort to any illegal substance or activity—of course, apart for those unfortunate people living in parochial parts of the world where books still get banned.
The importance of being contextual
However, creative writing doesn’t mean we can write whatever we feel like without ever having to think about rules, guidelines, and principles.
Essentially the reasons for this are twofold.
First of all, to communicate effectively, we need a web of shared knowledge about how language works in the many different contexts in which we use it. Without this frame of reference, we would be just making noises. For example:
1) Golar sodamet gu luscius
2) Javier dijo asì
3) Jack ate your apple
In (1) I just wrote a phrase with invented words. But even so, these words are not entirely casual. In fact, for example, they follow some principles about ease of pronunciation. Besides, they are arranged in a way that, at least superficially, seems to reflect the English construction of (3).
In (2) we have another perfectly formed phrase. It only happens to be in Spanish–Javier said so. This makes it apparent that the first rule about communication is about which shared language we should use. And only then about the rules we should follow within that language.
3) Here we have a phrase we can process and understand. But only to a certain extent. In fact, Jack could be a horse. ‘Your’ could refer to the reader. Or maybe to an animal. Not necessarily to a human. And so on. This is to point out how a language can never fully express meaning if its users don’t know how it relates to the world.
Constraints who don’t constrain
The second reason we need guidelines and principles, and sometimes even rules, is that even if at times rules can be perceived as unwarranted constraints, they nonetheless spur creativity.
Just think of the way poetry works. Of how poets, who often follow strict rules of composition, manage nonetheless to come up with splendid poems all the time.
At first blush this seems idiosyncratic. But it’s perfectly natural. It’s like with training. If our body never has to face any kind of stress, it gets weaker and less healthy, not the other way around. This happens because even if too much stress can be dangerous, a moderate amount of it is essential to keep us in shape.
And principles and rules represent exactly the literary equivalent of a healthy dose of stress.
In fact, they can certainly be tiresome at times. But they exist for a reason. To help us make sense. And say what we really have to say.
This doesn’t mean rules have to be always observed fanatically. On the contrary, there are times rules must be broken. But we must know them perfectly if we want to know when they are no longer helping us, when they prevent us from saying exactly what we have on your mind.
Some rules are easy to follow. Others are difficult even to understand. Others still seem arbitrary. But if we invest time in learning them adequately, the payoff will be huge.
I mean, our daily word quota isn’t necessarily going to increase, but gradually we’ll acquire the ability to spot all those a passages where rules need to be followed instead of broken out of sheer ignorance. We’ll also get better at spotting those few passages where rules actually are a hindrance.
Above all we’ll progress from knowing the rules to understanding the principles behind them.
Most likely, we will never reach a definitive and shared conclusion about a rule or even a principle. But considering grammarians seem only to agree that they all disagree with each other, that shouldn’t represent a big problem.
We can leave the bickering to the grammarians and do the writing instead. And if it is still far from perfection, who cares? What matters is that we’re moving on the cline. That we’re getting better. One step at a time. Or rather, one rule at at time.
Other posts about writing rules and when and why to break them: