Writing Rules I Want to Unlearn

Regret is universal. Despite the many motivational posters, self-help books, and poorly-designed tattoos that tell us to live life without regret, regret is something everyone experiences and just can’t be avoided.

Reading your post about how you took the “easy route” through school made me think about the Spanish classes I gave up on, the short stories I never tried to publish, and the elective classes I skipped so I could take more required coursework. There’s so much I still want to learn and despite barely being in my twenties, I feel like I’m running out of time.

But, that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the stuff I want to unlearn. Specifically, the stupid rules we were taught in grade school English. As a professional writer, I’ve had to “unteach” myself so many rules over the years so I could find my own writing voice. 

Your last post was very personal and my original plan was to respond with something equally heartwarming, but I decided a list of all the writing rules I hate would be better. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled sibling mushiness momentarily.

Rules I Hate

Rule #1: Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.

As students, we’re all taught not to end our sentences with words like to, at, of, or by. I’m sorry, no one actually talks like this. No one says “To which restaurant do you want to go?” Everyone says “Which restaurant do you want to go to?”

Rule #2: Don’t split infinitives.

Another rule everyone hears in grade school English. I’m sorry, but Gene Roddenberry would disagree and I always side with Gene. The Enterprise’s mission was “to boldy go” not just “to go.” Stop teaching us rules based on Latin. We’re not writing in Latin, we’re writing in English.

Rule #3: Parentheses are okay to use.

No, parentheses are not okay. Parentheses are a surefire way to make your reader stumble over a sentence. If that extra piece of information is essential to the sentence, you can take the time to find it a place.

Rule #4: Always write out an acronym on the first reference.

Okay, so some people actually flip flop on this rule. For me, unless the acronym is obscure you don’t need to spell it out. Keep in mind who you’re writing for and make sure you’re not babying them.

Rule #5: Don’t write in the first person.

Why? Am I trying to convince my audience that I’m not actually a person? I actually am a person, believe it or not.

I guess I’ll stop there. I have more I could rant about, but these are the ones that come immediately to mind when I think about the rules I want to unlearn.

Of course it all depends on what you’re writing. If you’re writing for academia, rules are rules and you have to stick to them. If you’re writing for a blog, rules can be bent. You just have to learn how to ignore that voice in the back of your head, the one that sound suspiciously like your fourth grade English teacher, and write what you want to write.

No regrets.

-EMS

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