There’s Picasso’s old adage that one needs to learn the rules like a professional so they can break them like an artist. When you don’t know the rules, sometimes the same effect happens. It reminds me that the rules are misnamed. They’re not rules, not laws. Not even conventions. They are observations of pattern and attempts to define and quantify something that defies it. "X is beautiful therefore for something to be beautiful it must be like X." It is a cart before the horse thing. Shallow and uninspired.
In the publishing world where interns read for imitation more than for innovation, the rules are fixed and demanding mileposts, but in the peace and space of a creative writing class, pure expression from pent up artists is like new bird song on a safari.
I’m glad not everyone in my classes wants to publish. Without the rock tumbler commercialization rules their work can stay beautiful and unique, jagged edged and true. They can explore their voices and meanings. They listen to me however, as I tell them the rules of italics as I see them, show them to shave unnecessary words, develop disdain for passive voice and dialog tags and form them into a projectile more accessible to the masses. But I feel a little dirty for doing it. There’s a majesty in the untrained, unsoiled writer. One who has been taught be reading more than rote, expression more than convention.
The dream of course is that they can remain true to their visions, overcome the learning curve to join Picasso at the other end. True and effective.
I just hope that somewhere in their notebooks they keep those turns of phrase, sentences, paragraphs and words that move me in these classes to wish I had written them.