Caught Up: Following The Rules (Repost)

Today I wanted to have a look at the things we get caught up with.

Glam recently – or not so, perhaps; been away for so long I’ve no idea – posted an article about being caught up in following the rules. And I realised, once again, that sometimes the things I find self-evident really aren’t so at all.

I’m a rule follower, usually. Always have been. I was a straight-A student all throughout highschool; I won all sorts of awards right throughout, and graduated second in my year, in the 99th percentile for the state.

Rule follower. Through and through.

And yet.

It always seems strange to me when people allow Rules to take over their lives. Rules are made by humans; human are fallible, ergo rules are too. I studied law for two years at university, and for me it was always, always the spirit of the law that was more important than the letter. Sometimes, it’s just plain not logical to follow the rules.

In writing, there are a lot of ‘rules’. Show, don’t tell. Full stops at ends of sentences. No fragments. (:P) And so on. It’s always seemed pretty self-evident to me, both by applying logic and by paying attention to what I read that is actually published that following these kinds of rules is pretty optional, if you know what you’re doing. It’s like English lit as a whole, really: You can hold any opinion that you like, so long as you can substantiate why 😀 (Yes, there are no right or wrong answers in English; that terrifies some people, but that’s why I love it 😉 Especially because if you really want to, you can prove almost anything from almost any text O:))

So, rules are, to a large extent, optional in writing. There’s really no sense getting caught up with them, and stressing yourself out over it. After all, if we all wrote precisely according to the rules, we’d no doubt all end up sounding exactly the same.

Like anything, however, there’s a ‘but’. And I think it’s a pretty big one. 

Being able to substantiate what you’ve done and why is an often-overlooked but essential part of any writer’s toolkit. Sure, you can claim that you’re doing it just because ‘it works’; and often, that can be true. No problemo.

But what happens when it’s time to edit, and you know that something’s wrong, but you can’t figure out what? It’s then that knowing the rules really helps. Being able to sit down and go methodically through the ‘rules’ to see which ones you’ve broken, and to think about what effect that might be having on the story, can be tedious – but it’s a heck of a lot LESS tedious and frustrating than staring at the eightieth broken draft of your story. 

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing; it’ll save you a lot of heartache when it comes to knowing what’s working in your story, and what’s not.

So tell me – are you a rule follower in writing? How about life? And how are you placed when someone challenges what you’re doing – can you give a reason?

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