Friday, June 18, 2010


Stifle, Stifle, Stifle! For some reason, I hear Deputy Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith show saying these words. I'm not sure if he ever did. I know he said zip it and hooty-hoo, but not positive about stifle!

As I was editing one project the other day and cutting out words - she brightly smiled (guess which word got cut - ha!) - I wondered if many writers sometimes stifle themselves with all the rules we're allegedly supposed to follow - don't end a sentence with a preposition, don't use adverbs, don't do this, don't do that, blah, blah, blah.

I've read some blog posts where writers are very careful in their very first draft. They follow all the rules, fix the problems as they occur, etc.

I think that's all fine and dandy . . . for other writers.

As for me, the rough draft is all about getting the words to paper, the story out, and the revision process is for fixing everything.

Now, what does all this have to do with Deputy Fife saying stifle, stifle, stifle?

Well, my question: do we stifle the creative process by adhering to too many rules during the initial writing phase?

For me, the answer is YES! Now, I try to pay attention to not using too many words that end in -ly! I try not to have the characters smile brightly or laugh loudly or softly for that matter, but every now and then one of those pesky words will end up in the project. It's life. It's part of the creative process.

I don't think rules were meant to dictate the creation of art - written word, music, painting, whatever. The whole point of creativity, at least to me, is to follow your heart and ignore the rules. Yes, there comes a time and place, especially in writing, where we have to pay attention to the rules.

But . . .

Do we pay attention to those rules so much that we stifle our creative process?

Do we want to stifle our creative process or do we want to encourage that process to its fullest extent?

As for me, I'm all about the fullest extent . . . at least in the rough draft stage.

How about you? Do you ever feel you're stifling your creativity by adhering to all the rules in the rough draft stage? If so, how do you handle the stifling of your creativity? Is it a price to pay for one day being published?

Comment away!



Tess said...

Nah, Barney never said stifle. I would know. We were tight back in the day.

And, I am a bit slow and cautious on my first drafts. Mostly because I don't trust myself to see everything when I go back for edits. I'm amazed at how blind I can get to a story. So, if I'm a little more careful about what I put in, I figure that I have a better chance of not missing that error later. Does that make any sense?

But, the beauty of art in all its forms is the fact that there is no right or wrong.

Alleged Author said...

I agree with you 100%! Sometimes I'm so busy making sure to not include certain words that it takes all the fun out of writing. I started writing what I could on rough drafts THEN going back and editing words out of the ms. Works much better for me, and I don't feel like banging my head against the wall every time I use an -ly adverb.

Jemi Fraser said...

When I hear stifle I think of Archie Bunker :)

I agree - first draft writing for me is all about the joy and the freedom. Forget the rules - get the story!

Scott said...

Tess - you're so right: no right or wrong. We're not clones, but individuals, so we each do things in the way that works best for us.

Alleged - ditto! I think when we lose the fun of what we're doing, the point of doing it no longer exists.

Jemi - you're right. It was Archie Bunker. Geesh, how could I forget that one? All in the Family was a standard in our house growing up. That was the one show, outside of sports or news, that my Dad watched.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Oh, Scott, you have no idea how much I know what you're talking about with this post. It go SO bad that I decided I was just going to write something without intending to publish it traditionally - my novella. And guess what? It was like a door opened and I walked into another world. All of the sudden rules didn't matter. This whole self-publishing thing is teaching me A LOT about writing, and it has been priceless experience. All those stifling rules make me quite angry. I loved Scott's post on the Lit Lab a little while ago about stupid rules.

Scott said...

Michelle - Isn't it freeing when we dare to break the rules and just do what we want to do? I think we take the rules far too seriously, giving them much more importance than they should have, and not realizing they are only loose guidelines. I also loved the other Scott's post.