Andy Hawthorne

Thoughts, stories and ideas

Learning to Break the Rules of Writing

So many that it becomes impossible to know or follow them all.

What can be done? Most of us that need to write (all of us) will crack on in the best way we can. Others take more time. Others take a lot more time because they are being paid to produce great copy.

Here’s the thing: what would your writing read like if you followed the rules of grammar? To the letter? Pristine, grammatically correct copy.

It would bore your readers to tears…

Prose that is stiff and formal reads that way. It’s a big turn-off for readers. Your readers are the ones that matter. Why would you write prose that sounds like you are trying to be intellectual?

Following the rules is fine — up to a point. But…

“I don’t know the rules of grammar. If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.” David Ogilvy

Ogilvy knew a thing or two about the power of words. He being a top-flight ad man for many years.

In this quote he’s saying write for your audience. There is a strong argument that says you have to match your prose for the audience. And the purpose of the words you are writing.

I say that’s not an excuse to shove a broom up your writing arse. So that you sound stiff and formal. Robotic, even. It comes down to writing with style.

A matter of style

I worried about style for many years. How would I develop my own style? Could I do it without aping the authors I admire?

Then, I saw this quote:

I never study style; all that I do is try to get the subject as clear as I can in my own head, and express it in the commonest language which occurs to me.
Charles Darwin

And the clarity hit me like turning a corner into a strong wind. HG Wells had something to say on it:

“I write as straight as I can, just as I walk as straight as I can, because that is the best way to get there.”
HG Wells

Agreed.

Breaking the rules

There are rules that matter and other assertions that weren’t rules in the first place.

Using ‘and’ to start a sentence, for example. There is no rule that you shouldn’t. The word ‘and’ is a conjunction. There are others like ‘so’, ‘but’ and ‘yet’ all of which pendants would cringe if they saw them at the start of a sentence.

The context of the sentence is what matters. If the context works, then you can break the rules here and there.

The point here is: you can write clean, easy to read prose that may not follow every rule. But nobody cares because your message is clear. And in the end, that’s all that matters.