Recently I found myself in a completely new situation - a hospital, to be exact. Among other things, being confined in one place with not much to do and nowhere to go forces you into a lot of quiet thinking time (when people are not poking holes in your arms or machines aren't beeping!). And also quiet observation time. You get to see and hear stories from people that you mightn't otherwise come across, let alone have time to really listen to. And you get to see people hard at work in an entirely different profession.
A remark by my doctor stuck with me for a long time. He said, "In here, everyone has to do things by the book. Whoever comes along after needs to know exactly what came before." He was referring to records kept of medications and treatments, of course. But it started me thinking about how different our jobs are. In the hospital, it's vital that everyone does things exactly the same way. In the writing world, it's the kiss of death. Editors are after something original, the fresh, different new voice. If we all wrote the same way, we'd end up with a pretty boring bunch of books out there.
But the other side is also true. In medicine, sometimes it's a sudden insight or inspiration (maybe even waking up in the middle of the night) that can shed light on what seemed unsolvable. In medical research, no doubt it can be the same. For all the plodding through experiments, a flash of inspiration can provide the breakthrough. And in writing, for all we want to create something original and different, we still have to be proficient at the rules of grammar (so readers can understand us clearly), and we still have to be professional in how we submit and present our work. That way, we are taken seriously.
The key is to know when the rules are helping, and when they are hindering. Free writing with no punctuation or grammar can break through a writing block. Flowery paper and scrolly writing in a submission letter will make you look like an amateur. A deadline can be overwhelming for one writer and stimulating for another. I know with historical fiction that the line between providing a rich background and being over the top with my factual material is a thin one indeed! What rules help you? Which ones hinder you?