Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Writing Rules vs. Writing Guidelines

A week or so ago, my buddy Roy sent me a lecture he’d downloaded from the Blackboard site of our MFA program.  It was a pretty good lecture about rewriting, except that the author/lecturer started with a list of Rules.  I capitalize the word because you could tell by the way the lecture was written that Rules were very important and meant to be followed.

One of the Rules was that one must always, always, always (did I mention that it should be always?) revise on hard copy.  No revising on the Computer.  This was a very important Rule.

Well, oops to me because most of my revising and rewriting is done on the computer, even though I love writing by hand and still rely on hand-written notes and drafts for much of my writing.  But what happens to me when I edit on hard copy is that it looks great while I’m making the changes on the manuscript, but when it comes time to transfer it to the computer, somehow it doesn’t work.

This may be some tragic lack in my brain, I’m not sure, but there it is. 

So apparently I am not following the Rules.

I am far enough along in my writing career to be able to understand that the Rules do not need to apply to me.  What annoys me about this is that a few years ago I wouldn’t have been.  A few years ago I would have thought, oh no! alas!  I am not editing the correct way.  I am not editing according to the rules.  Thus I am wrong and I must do what is right.  And then I would struggle and squirm and try my hardest to conform to this stupid Rule when it just isn’t right for me.

And it really irks me that someone thinks that they can present this Rule as if the writing God himself had handed it down.

Got news for you–there is no writing God.  Well there might be, but if there is, he is not in the business of handing down stupid Rules.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There can and should be rules in writing.  We need rules in grammar (I know, but we really do) and we need rules of craft.    But we do not need rules on how to write.  Guidelines, ideas, comments along the lines of this is what works for me, you might want to try it, yes.  But no rules on how to write. 

Some people love to outline; others like to let the plot flow.  Some like to write by hand before transferring the words to the computer, others can do nothing but compose directly at the computer.  And so forth. 

So I say, when it comes to writing how-to, learn what works for you and do that and don’t pay attention to anyway telling you otherwise.  When you are learning craft, there are rules a-plenty to be followed.

5 thoughts on “Writing Rules vs. Writing Guidelines

  1. Don Williams

    I must agree. Following rules just for the sake of following rules is totally against my main rule: Don’t follow other people’s rules!

    Sure, it may be great for some people, but I am not another person unless, of course, you are another person, which means I’m another person to you.

    My second rule is: To get the hell out of here before I make a bigger jackass of myself then I just did when describing my first rule!

  2. Lauri

    Thanks, I needed to hear this message today.

  3. Lauri

    Thanks, I needed to hear this message today.

  4. Charlotte

    Ah, Don, you’re not making a jackass our of yourself, you are making me laugh!

    Lauri, I’m glad the post was helpful.

  5. Mark Dykeman

    I have to admit that I think that revising on hard copy has some advantages that revising on-screen doesn’t. Nonetheless, if you have a method that works for you and you feel confident with it, why change?

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