I’m not much of a rule breaker in real life, but I’m all for it when it comes to writing. Here are four writing rules made to be broken:
Rule 1: Avoid the forbidden words
Never use any form of the verb “to be”. Don’t start a sentence with and, but, or, or there. Don’t use contractions, conversational language, or slang. Each of these recommendations has good intentions, but the unintended consequence is convoluted, less concise language that conflicts with the theme, tone or purpose of the piece. Consider your content first: what am I writing? How will I best communicate these ideas in form, style and tone? Use those questions as a guide for what words to use and avoid, rather than adhering to overtly objective guidelines.
Rule 2: Adhere to artificial structures
Prescribed formats are like training wheels. They keep you from falling while you’re learning to ride, but you can’t move very fast once you’ve mastered the basics (I’m looking at you, five paragraph essay). Knowledge of basic structures is a good thing. But when a writer learns only to produce work in one mode, thoughts and ideas aren’t transferred to other forms as simply as they might be otherwise. Once again, start with content first. Figure out what you want to say, then determine what type of format will work best.
Rule 3: Fulfill your word count requirements
This one will probably raise some eyebrows, but hear me out. When a beginning or intermediate writer is presented with a word count requirement, the tendency is to fill the piece which as much filler as possible. My advice? Ignore it. Answer the what, when, how, and why of the piece, and chances are, you’ll find yourself within the word count guidelines.
Rule 4: Do your writing in school, for school
While this conundrum might not get as much air time as its sister complaint, “when will I ever use math in real life?!?!?”, it’s just as common. Academia teaches writing in isolation, but it’s not just something students are forced to do for a grade. Giving writing a purpose outside of the school environment makes it relevant and worthwhile. Strong communication skills are an integral life skill.
You’ve probably noticed a trend by now – rule breaking is all about keeping your content and purpose first, letting those two items guide what and how you write. Keep the message and audience at the forefront: your writing will thank you for it.