Short answer? No. But let’s talk about why. I’m on Pinterest quite a bit, and I see a lot of blog posts from writers who insist that you should “always” do this or “never” do that. These people insist that there are writing rules that you should absolutely never break. Otherwise, your writing will be terrible, and you will never be published. For the most part, this is categorically untrue – especially the part about some things being fundamentally bad writing. Here’s why.
Writing best practices vs writing rules
Now, I write about how to improve your writing, from properly using adverbs to writing concisely. This is because there are writing best practices, things are will most likely improve your writing. There are reasons for this. For example, too many adverbs typically weakens your writing because you’re able to use them like a crutch. You don’t need to reach for “sprinted” when you can just write “ran quickly.” Cutting down your adverbs will usually strengthen your nouns and verbs.
It’s also true that some things might make it more difficult for you to publish. Putting “?!” in your prose is frowned upon. Same with using italics, bold, or capitalized text. These things will also typically weaken your writing because you’re able to rely on them to emphasize what you want to emphasize without leaning on your actual prose.
However, there are no real rules for publication (beyond formatting everything correctly, honestly). People have gotten some insane things published, including things that break all the “rules.”
That being said…
Knowing best practices
Even if you don’t necessarily need to follow any writing rules, you should know what these best practices are. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Bend the rules only if you have learned them; break the rules only if you have mastered them” (Matshona Dhliwayo). Or maybe how, if you’re going to break a rule, it needs to be on purpose. Knowing these writing best practices, so you can break them effectively may be the only actual writing rule.
Writing is ultimately a series of decisions. What word makes the most sense? What order should your scenes go in? How will your character affect the plot? This goes on and on and on. A story is nothing but a mass of small and big decisions. For that reason, going against best practices needs to be purposeful. In order for them to be purposeful, you need to know what best practice you’re going against and specifically why you are doing so. It’s the why that really matters. Above all, understand how each thing you do serves your story, whether that’s following or going against best practices.
Doing what’s best for your story
Ultimately, you always want to do what’s best for your story, which means your writing best practices might change based on what you’re doing. This won’t (and probably shouldn’t) happen with every story, but your writing and your decisions should always support the specific story you’re working on.
If you’re a novice writer looking for some best practices or one-on-one help to improve your writing, I recommend getting on the waitlist for my creative writing workshop. It’s a 12-week course that comes with live lectures and personalized feedback. Check it out!
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