For something that’s so subjective, fluid, and intuitive, writing sure has a lot of rules. From the time you pick up your first pencil until they pry the keyboard from your cold, dead hands, you’re exposed to a litany of do’s and don’ts that are sometimes as confusing as they are meaningless. (I’m sure someone told Faulkner it was a bad idea to include a chapter in his first novel that is one opaque sentence long. I’m just as sure that he ignored them on his way to creating Nobel Prize winning masterpieces.)
You’ve been told not to end sentences with prepositions, not to split infinitives, not to dangle participles (because they’re scared of heights?), and so on, ad nauseam. If you’re even the slightest bit OCD (like me) all these rules can paralyze you when you have a thesis to write, an edit memo to compose, or a novel you want to start.
Do all those rules matter? Well, yes, they do. A good writer is one who knows the rules and judiciously breaks them for effect. You can easily tell a great craftsman who uses repetition to make a point from a sloppy hack who can’t be bothered to look up a synonym, for instance. As someone who spends a lot of time line-editing proposals, I can tell you that in most cases, rule flouting is not intentional or effective.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of bad advice being doled out by “experts” that, if followed, will consign you to the Dantean circle where boring, tepid, uninspired prose blandly tortures the poor souls whose crimes against literature landed them there in the first place. Which is why G. Doucette’s piece in the HuffPost cracked me up.
The point? Rules are good. Rules should be understood and followed. Rules must sometimes be broken.
What are your favorite rules to ignore?