So if you haven't heard yet (and if you haven't heard, I mean, like, what are you doing with your time), Neil Gaiman recently gave a lovely commencement address for the 2012 graduates of The University of the Arts. You should watch it. Because it is lovely.
While giving the aforementioned speech, Mr. Gaiman said something that struck a chord in me. Here's the gist: when he was first starting out as a writer, he didn't know what he was doing, really. And that was a good thing, because he wasn't bound by all this structure and indoctrinated education and rigid rules. He could do literally anything he wanted to do, and as long as someone hadn't made a rule against it YET, there was nothing anybody could do about his coloring outside the lines.
I love this concept, even though I am and will likely remain a firm proponent of teaching yourself about your art and knowing its rules. I've written about it a bunch of times (and I often use Neil Gaiman as a reference lolololol). I do believe there's a difference between rule-breaking and just being lazy. Not ascribing to all the preconceived notions of what supposedly makes a "good" book? Rule-breaking. Refusing to learn the basics of writing structure and grammar and claiming unintentional comma splices are your "style?" Lazy.
JUST SO WE'RE CLEAR.
One of the reasons I love Neil Gaiman's work so much is because his stories often straddle multiple genres. He doesn't really work within set conventions, and as such, individual readers will often give his stories different genre specifications. Horror, fantasy, science fiction, "weird," whatever. I also love pushing the boundaries of genre. True, this sort of writing can limit you because it can't be placed into a neat little marketing box, but it's what I love to write.
I love the idea of sitting down to write and refusing to be bound to what I'm "allowed" to do. It's one of the main reasons I'm so drawn to writing for children and teens -- the pre-constructed ideas of genre, structure, prose, typesetting, and more can be thrown out of the window. Experimentation is allowed, even encouraged.
Gaiman also told a nice anecdote about how he didn't really have set career goals for his writing. He just had a list. A list that said things like "write an adult novel," "write a comic," "write a children's book." When he completed one, he went to the next thing on his list. Obviously we can't all be Neil Gaiman, but I do smile at the idea of not having this big scheme about how I'm going to be X kind of author. That's part of the rule-breaking, I think. We don't have to be limited to one specific sort of book or writing. Yes, there are legitimate marketing reasons behind building a knowable brand for your writing. Still, the little bird that lives in my ribcage really likes to idea of being able to fly whichever way she wants when I let her out.
And that's really what it's about, isn't it? Freedom. Freedom means you'll probably fail, but it also means you can soar as high as you possibly can.
Like the man says: make good art.