Remember the Writing Rules

Sometimes, you have to follow the rules. Other times, you have to break them.In the past few weeks, I’ve stumbled upon articles that suggest a person forget the basic rules of writing, grammar, and punctuation. The authors suggest that a person should focus on voice at the expense of those rules. I can’t argue against the necessity of voice – it is important – but I can argue against forgetting the basic rules.

I’ve been thinking about how to make my case because readers could argue that I’m prejudiced. Of course I’m for the rules; I’m Write Right. I have a red pen. I threaten people with that pen via the chibified version of myself.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to make a good case because of that bias, but I’ll try my best. I believe in the rules and in learning the rules because they help a person to broadcast his or her voice. They turn something incoherent into something that makes sense and can be understood by others. The rules do not exist to limit a person’s creativity; they exist to give it a form, to give it meaning. The rules bring order to the chaos that often fills the brain and the page.

It isn’t that those rules can’t be broken. They can be. They should be. They should not, however, be broken because it’s “cool” or because of “voice.” If the rules are going to be broken, a better justification needs to be given. Creative license isn’t going to do it. I need to know why a person is breaking the rules. I need to know how that disregard of the rules enhances the voice. If I can’t discover those things or the author can’t explain the why or the how, the explanation doesn’t matter. It’s simply an excuse, not a reason.

Do you think the rules are important? Why or why not?

Photo: Crashmaster007 (CC BY-NC 2.0)


  1. Yes, I believe they’re important, because “breaking the rules” has no inherent virtue. The great artists everyone likes to point to when making the case against basic grammar or punctuation usually had very specific reasons for writing how they did. Not knowing the rules in the first place, or breaking them because you’re lazy or just want to feel like a special snowflake, is not an artistic statement. It’s pretension. You have to master the rules before breaking them holds any meaning. 

    • surlymuse Daniel! It’s nice to see you at Write Right.A “special snowflake”? I need to remember that phrase.

      • Erin F. Thanks for the great post! I really should stop by more often. 🙂

        • surlymuse I say the same thing about your blog. I always have a great time when I visit the place. Time has a way of getting away from me these days. Now that I’ve used “time” and “a way” and “away” far too many times (There I go again.), I’ll post this comment.

        • Erin F. Thank you, Erin. I know how it goes. I have a backlog of almost 500 blog posts in my Google Reader right now. There just isn’t enough time to get to all the great writers and writing blogs out there!

        • surlymuse No, there isn’t. I’m juggling a lot of different things, too, and that isn’t helping me find or make time for reading blogs.I’ve stopped visiting my Google Reader. I’m scared it will collapse if I look at the backlog.

  2. I think rules are important. I have mentioned this before, I ain’t a native English speaker, so when I write it is more like I am thinking rather than being correct with grammar. But yes, I feel rules are important but then if you are going to break them, then it should nice! And it should make sense! 🙂