It really is enough to give even Picard a headache.
Being an English-speaking person is already enough to give someone an aching cranium. It’s a Germanic tongue that has borrowed enough from the Romance languages and developed enough quirks and oddities to make mastery of it an elusive task indeed. “Easy to learn, hard to master” is a cliche that fits well in this case. That same sort of conundrum works its way into your life when you decide to write or tell a story.
Ever since I made the leap and decided I was going to be a writer, I have time and again found myself stuck in the middle of a pervasive quandary. I am a rebel at heart in many respects. Unless I already have a good reason as to why I should listen, I tend to do the opposite of what people tell me I “should” do. Unless I know the answers to the “why, how, what, where, when” questions, especially the “why,” I’m going to go do my own thing. Sometimes it gets me into trouble. It rocks the boat, it ruffles feathers. I’ve perplexed coworkers and managers who, until they get to know me well, wonder why I can’t simply accept that “this is the way things are done, don’t question it.” If it doesn’t make sense and doesn’t benefit anyone, then why are we doing it?
This rebellion, when it comes to writing, is part of my natural flippancy toward establishment and elitism. I don’t like snobbery and nitpicking. I take issue with the stuffy, literary types who think they are the arbiters of what is and what isn’t “good” writing, or what is deemed required reading, with the rest being rubbish fit only for us commoners. The rebellion is also a rejection of those aforementioned qualities in myself. As a teenager, whose anger and frustration with myself, life, and the world was misplaced, misdirected, I used to parse the grammar of others with regularity. I used to snub my nose at certain art forms as being lesser than another because of genre. I used to correct my friends’ spelling and grammar without being asked, which made me a giant asshole. I thankfully learned to stop doing that years ago, though sometimes I do still need to bite my tongue or facepalm when I come across or hear something that makes no sense.
I realize even now the temptation to lapse into that old mindset. The last post I made before this one, even, could be construed as me thinking fan fiction as being automatically inferior to other writing. I don’t believe that. I wouldn’t be surprised for a second if there was a fan fiction writer out there who could outwrite me and my muses with their eyes closed. The short version of one of my points in that post was that an author or creator’s canon should be respected, that allowing fantasy and wish fulfillment to override an artist’s original work is, to me, an insult.
This is where the contradictions get trickier. I dislike the snobbery of literary writing versus genre writing. Good writing is fucking good writing, as far as I’m concerned, whether it “follows the rules” or not. Yet, we need to have some kind of standard, right? Otherwise the whole thing falls apart and all we have is one big blorb of subjectivity where there is no right, wrong, good, bad, or any context at all really. I don’t want to see a world where the average Facebook or Twitter post is the best we’ll get in writing, creative or otherwise. Art is art, yet I can’t write sentences with nothing but verbs, use colons in place of question marks, or constantly speak in mixed tense and hope to convey information to you, can I? There are no rules in writing, one of my favorite teachers and authors told me, and he’s right, except not, because there are some rules.
Have I confused you yet?
The blank page is the writer’s canvas, the keyboard our palette, the words our brushstrokes. I could mash enough random keys to fill a page, and at least one cobber out there in the world would still call it art, but I wouldn’t. I need to follow at least some kind of standard in order for your brain to interpret the information I endeavor to relay. If I’m lucky, an image will be painted in your mind, translated from the words I place upon the page. Yet I hate the rules. If you tell me you shouldn’t write a story in second person, guess what I’m going to do next? If I’m not supposed to mix two particular genres, you bet your ass I’m going to blend them. Do I have a character who swears too much? That’s when I wonder how many times I need to use the word “fuck” to set a new record.
Welcome to my world, the world of a writer, an artist, who thinks English-speaking adults ought to know the differences between “they’re,” “their,” and “there,” who winces when I hear someone use an adjective as a noun, yet who lifts their middle finger whenever I hear someone say what you are and aren’t allowed to do in creative writing. I hate hyphens and go out of my way to avoid them until I have no choice. It’s hard for me to feel arsed about dangling participles or dependent clauses left hanging if the prose hits the tongue like honey and the images evoked from the work transport me to a place I’ve never been. I don’t care about someone ending a sentence with a preposition if in the context of the script the whole thing ends up coming across with the smoothness of butter on homemade biscuits (the American kind; butter on cookies gives me pause).
This is writing, this is storytelling. It’s a mess of contradictions, except when it’s not.