Breaking Bad with the Rules

“If rules are made to be broken, then what’s the point of learning grammar rules? You have to know what the rules are in order to break them, so there’s no way to get around understanding proper grammar. Learning the rules well and knowing how to apply them may lead you to infinitely more inventive ways of breaking them.” ~grammerly

I love it when a simple group chat turns into a thought-provoking tool of self-reflection in my own writing. In all writing really. I’ll elaborate.

The chat took form around the importance and validity of avoiding cliches in our approach to storytelling and when is it ok to break the standard rules of good writing.

Now, I believe that ANY writing is good writing because…well…because you ARE writing!

*I believe above all it is most important to get started! Damn the cliches, typos, run-ons, plot holes, and ill-conceived storylines with one-dimensional characters. That is what the rewrite is for, but you can’t do a rewrite without a first draft. *
(Am I right, or am I right? Can I get a witness?)

“Hemingway was an obsessive revisionist. It is reported that he wrote and rewrote all, or portions, of The Old Man and the Sea more than two hundred times before he was ready to release it for publication. Hemingway took great pains with his work; he revised tirelessly.” -cliff notes

BUT… this got me to thinking about great writers.

THE great writers, yeah, the ones we point to their work and say “Look. See. THIS IS HOW it is DONE!”, and I can not help but see so many rules that are broken by said great writers.

They are revered for them and dubbed “unique style”. Whether in the language they use (Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn), or the flawed grammar (Ernest Hemingway’s penchant to start new sentences with the word, “And”).

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

In achieving greatness or at least in achieving a first draft to work from, rules ARE meant to be broken!

I say, throw caution to the wind, make LOTS of mistakes, but MOST OF ALL, HAVE FUN and KEEP ON WRITING.

Then let’s reflect on how these greats break the rules with panache and no apologies.

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I agree with you to “just write” and worry about improving the script upon revision. However, I’m not convinced of the value of the Grammarly article. They don’t seem to have any concept of the difference between rules and guidelines. Perhaps that’s why the application introduces so many errors instead of cleaning up the language.

Regardless, if you understand the rules and guidelines, you can break them with great effect. Grammar rules and guidelines are designed simply to improve the readers’ comprehension and enjoyment of the ideas conveyed by the writer. If, by understanding a rule, you choose to break it and still enable reader-comprehension, you’ve achieved success. Too often, however, writers ignore the guidelines and rules, leaving the reader the chore of having to make multiple passes to decipher meaning.

So, in my opinion, write, write, write, but also revise, revise, revise … or if you really have no idea, let someone who does understand revise it for you. And I’m not talking about social media and forum posts, more like those delightful stories, poems and prose that we want to share with our readers.


@Kas, I could not agree more! I personally suck at punctuation. I scatter commas like Tinker Bell sprinkles pixie dust and hope they all land in the right places.

My ideas run together. So do my sentences. Run-on sentences, boy do I ever make run-on sentences.

If decorating paragraphs with mostly useless punctuation is a thing, then I am a pro.

However, I believe in the power of finding someone that can bring that skill and their red pen to my writing.

I consider it money well spent to rely on the expertise of someone that knows what the heck proper punctuation is supposed to look like, so the reader can comprehend in the way it was intended.

I’m aware many writers think they are supposed to know every aspect of the business of writing and let it get in the way of the storytelling.

I am so glad that you shared on this post a viable solution. (especially as an editor yourself you have serious clout on the subject).

It lightens the mental load to remember there are effective resources out there for writers so they can focus on getting the story told. Thank you.

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