Unpicking The Formulaic: Why Linguistic Individualism Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been taught that there are some things you can’t say, some styles that don’t work in all but the most specific context. That there are certain formulae for language and its manipulation that mean experimentation is unwise. That there are definable grammatical criteria that make one piece of writing ‘correct’ while another is ‘wrong’.

This is all rubbish and to be summarily dismissed.

Experimentation with style and form is what makes the great writers what they are. Where would literature be if Joyce had been told by his editor that his stream of consciousness didn’t work and was too confusing? Or if Burroughs, Kerouac, and later Bukowski had decided to stick with the form of their predecessors that they so dramatically rebelled against? Change is what helps both language and literature remain interesting and being stuck in the past helps nobody.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in poetry. The poetic is perhaps the oldest literary art form that we have, with balladic epic dating back three millennia to the time of Homer. The poetic style that is ‘in vogue’ has changed thousands of times since then, across a variety of countries and languages, and modern poetry is almost unrecognisable when the two bookends are taken as representative.

It is only by analysing each tiny step in poetry’s journey that a fascinating narrative of the poetic begins to form and the contemporary cultural influence on art becomes visible. And that is art at its most engaging. As a fluid, living, evolving life form that reacts to its handlers as they try to carry it forward.

So the next time somebody tells you that your language is confusing, or that your grammar is incorrect, or whatever other critique of your storytelling idiosyncrasies, ask them to look at José Saramago, to read Joyce, or to seek out Palahnuik, and see if they find the same flaws in their work.

The point is this, the best authors have no mould, they take the mould of their predecessors, break it, pick up the pieces and create their own, there is no point trying to imitate your favourite author because chances are they’ve already done it better than you can, or ever could, so create your own journey, your own style and run with it, and always remember, anything unusual almost invariably seems crazy until it’s proven to be genius, and that’s when you know you’ve made it.

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