The Rules of Writing

On every social media account that I have, I find authors handing out their own personal writing tips to other aspiring authors. There are countless blogs, posts, tweets, and pins about character development, grammar, punctuation, grabbing the reader’s attention, and other common writing “rules.” 

Yes, grammatical errors are distracting to the reader (if they catch them), but if you’re editing your own work as many of us are these days, it’s impossible to catch each and every error, no matter how many times you reread your work. And let’s be honest, even though there are a set number of grammar rules that actually exist in list form, every author, every professor, every school of thought has a particular set that they enforce and exceptions to each of the rules that they don’t enforce. 

Each individual that you ask to proof your document is going to have their own bias towards grammar. Some people will want “this, that, and those” while some people will prefer “this, that and those.” Some people hate semicolons, and others encourage you to use them (although I don’t think I’ve actually met one of those people, but I assume they’re out there). 

Some people view writing as a science – they follow a formula. I worked in a library when I was in high school and a very kind and chatty older gentleman decided to explain to me how romance novels work – and was absolutely thrilled that I blushed the entire time he was talking. 

I can’t remember the exact formula, but it was something to the effect of: man meets woman, man and woman fall in love, man and woman discover obstacle that prevents them from being together, man and woman overcome obstacle. This was of course also smattered with lots of make out sessions and sex, and my views on that will come in another blog post.

During my adolescent literature course in college, I learned all about the rules of writing young adult fiction. The one that my professor emphasized that really stuck in my head is that the child always has to go home at the end of the story. 

But why?? Why must we follow these laws of writing? In reality the child doesn’t always go home. Sometimes the child doesn’t want to go home. Sometimes the child can’t go home. And why do we have to have a specific reason for breaking these rules? My grammar professor had very specific rules that we had to follow UNLESS we had a fantastic literary reason for breaking the rule.

Another of my professors absolutely loved Emily Dickinson and spent the majority of our class time praising the way she broke comma usage rules to prove points within her poetry. (Do you ever wonder what some of these authors and poets would say if they could hear everything we read into their work?)

My point is that when you publish a work, even if you’re self publishing, you do want your work to look as polished as possible, unless you have a very good reason for it not looking polished. (Please note my eyes rolling as I type that) But as far as all the rules of writing go and tips from other authors – despite their best intentions – it’s YOUR work. If you don’t want to follow a pattern, then don’t. If you don’t want the child to return home at the end, then write your own ending. 

As I sit down to write each day, I hear all of these rules and pieces of advice floating around in my head and I get so distracted trying to make my work perfect. No work is perfect. It’s the errors and mistakes that make us and our writing unique. Yes, I will have multiple people proof my work. Yes, I will reread my own work numerous times for the common errors that I tend to make. Yes, I will spell check my document. No, I will not use the automated grammar check because most of the time it doesn’t even make sense. But if I tried to write a story with all of this in mind initially, I would never finish a single page. 

I personally write because I have stories in my head and I enjoy the release of getting all those stories onto paper. It’s a hobby. I don’t care if my work follows the correct pattern to gain worldwide recognition and popularity. I really doubt they ever will. And I know that the people who do read my work will probably find some typos despite my best efforts. I find typos in professionally edited and published works. But the occasional typo has never caused me to dislike a story that I would have otherwise loved.

And now for those of you who care, how many errors did I make in the above post?