Stop Memorizing So Many Writing Rules

Rules are great. You don’t have to follow all of them, though.

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My sophomore year of high school, I had two classes with the same teacher — English and creative writing.

These two subjects are a lot alike. They are also very different.

In English, to teach us different patterns of sentence structure, our teacher had us write sample sentences for each type of structure. I loved it, of course — I got to write, AND I got to learn weird grammar rules while doing it.

And then I had to walk into that same classroom later in the day and do the exact opposite — write things without following any sort of structure.

It was harder than you’d think. Human brains like patterns. But there were a few times he had to remind me to stop “writing inside the lines.”

I was young then. We’ve all been there. In school, you’re afraid to be too “out there.”

But you can’t carry around that kind of fear in the real world. Especially not when you’re trying to make a name for yourself as a writer.

I like rules. My slight obsession with following them makes me a pretty good editor.

My refusal to follow many of them, on the other hand, makes me an even better writer.

This does, of course, come from someone who has been doing this whole writing thing for … uh, a long time now. I’ve done my part. I’ve learned all the rules. I’ve written papers exactly the way my instructors have told me to. I’ve written articles exactly the way my clients demanded they be written.

I just used so much passive voice it’s disgusting. But I’m allowed to do whatever I want. I make my own rules now.

You can do that, when it’s for a good cause (your content).

Do you have to learn the basic rules of grammar and structure and how your industry of choice works first? Absolutely.

But if you’re letting the rules keep you from actually getting massive amounts of writing done, you need to take a step back and just let yourself “go crazy.”

And by that, I mean, don’t force yourself to stay between invisible lines when you don’t have to. Parameters are there to teach you how to begin, to give you a foundation off of which to build yourself up.

It’s OK to break the rules. Especially when breaking the rules means letting yourself create in a style and at a capacity you never knew you were capable of before.

I don’t think you’ve reached your full potential as a writer until you’ve at least tried to write something that’s good enough not to have to follow any rules you don’t want it to.

Maybe you’re not ready for that yet. That’s OK.

Keep writing until you are.

Or work your way up to it, slowly. That’s OK, too. You have time.

Don’t obsess over doing everything “right” or “perfect.” That’s not how things get written, and you know it.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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