Writerly Stuff: What are the rules, anyway?

Badges?  We don’t need no stinking badges

So did you Strunk & White today?  Chicago Manual?  Did you King On Writing or the more venerable Zinsser On Writing Well?  Eats Shoots and Leaves?  I know, you logged on to some writing site or maybe reviewed some writing magazines and got a whole new list of dos and don’ts.


Yes, Virginia, there are grammar police.  Some people cannot read a work without a grammar and punctuation microscope; but I am with Oscar Wilde.  He worked hard one morning, all morning deciding to put in a comma.  He worked hard all afternoon as well deciding to take it out again.

Of course you need to check your spill chucker.  I am not suggesting otherwise.  Yes, you need to “poofread.”  Editing is good.  That is why publishers employ people called editors.  But after you have given it the once (or if you can’t help yourself, the twice) over, you need to just go with it.

The plain truth is there are no rules, he said or exclaimed gleefully!

No, wait.  There is one rule worth remembering.  Rules are meant to be broken.  The bottom line for any writing is: does it work?  Is it working?  Have you grabbed your reader at the beginning and not let them go until the end?

If your ten or so Beta readers or critique partners all tell you it is not working, and especially when their reasons follow the same line of thought, pay attention.  Otherwise, go with the flow.  Ask, does this piece so enchant my readers that they beg for more?  If it does, you’ve got something even if you break all the rules.

Your thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Writerly Stuff: What are the rules, anyway?

  1. Does it work? Absolutely. But how can you tell? Your readers cannot remember the hours ground down, the dregs of coffee drained, the delete key hammered. They see it differently.

    On punctuation: George Orwell wrote a whole book without using a semicolon; he was quite upset when nobody noticed.

    • Readers know if it works. They have a sixth sense about such things, like children and puppy dogs. Find some strangers in your target audience.

      As for Orwell. I once had a nightmare where Cormac McCarthy and e. e. cummings merged. No punctuation and no capital letters either! Frightening…


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