I have a theory that grammar and punctuation rules are begging to be broken – let’s investigate

Truthbomb: One of the biggest things stopping you from writing is trying to follow “the rules.” When you toss out “the rules,” you can write in a way that feels more natural to you. But how do you know what to get rid of? And what does that look like in your writing? #copywritingtips #writing #businesstips #copywriting

Let’s not sugarcoat this elephant-sized turd: One of the biggest things stopping you from writing is trying to follow “the rules.”

“The rules” are there for your safety. “The rules” are there to make sure you stay in your lane, with your arms and legs inside the ride at all times and don’t get hurt. Or look foolish.

(Para su seguridad, mantenga sus manos, brazos, pies, y piernas dentro del vehicle… Por favor mangeten si haldo de las puertas…)

You probably think there’s no point in writing if you can’t follow “the rules,” right? All everyone will remember when you send out newsletters is how you seemed to have a personal vendetta against commas instead of the heartfelt, vulnerable message you were hoping to share.

You’ve pretty much convinced yourself that no one (NO ONE!) will take you seriously if you do your own thing. There are ways of writing, and you feel like you were taught a certain “way” so it must be right and why would you purposefully start doing something that you were specifically taught NOT to do? Ludicrous, right? (The word meaning ridiculous. Not the rapper.) Absolute feckin’ insanity.

Or not…

(You knew that’s where I was headed, didn’t you? See? You’re a smart AF peanut butter chocolate chip cookie.)

Today, my sweet (not just because I’m now thinking of you as an oh-so-edible cookie) friend, I kindly invite you to forget “the rules.” And everything you think you know about writing.

No, this doesn’t mean you can invent a new language (like Dothraki or Slytherin), start writing your blog posts in it, and be hailed as a visionary pioneering new and completely uncharted language territories. 

It also doesn’t mean you can write a sales page filled with one-word paragraphs.

No.

You.

Didn’t.

Nor does it mean you should purge all writing of punctuation (sorry, but you *might* not be the next ee cummings), never use spell check again, and only write in future tense, even when you’re talking about something that happened in the past. 

Okay, great, you’re thinking, what *does* it mean then?

So glad you asked.

It means:

  • You can write in a way that feels more natural to you.

  • You can create your own style guide.

  • You can spend less time looking up rules and more time writing from the heart. (I know you’ve still got an MLA book lying around somewhere…)

Just think of some of the things you’ve been taught. Go ahead. Drop and give me five style rules you learned back in the day.

I’ll wait.

I’m waiting.

Here’s a few you’ve probably come across. Feel free to add this to your list if they slipped your mind. As long-lost style rules are wont to do. 

Maybe you were taught that not using the Oxford comma is akin to taking a can of gasoline, pouring it over a big pile of classic books, striking a match, and burning every word till they no longer exist. (Bad, very, very bad.)

Or maybe you learned about the Oxford comma from Vampire Weekend and agree: “Who DOES give a fuck about an Oxford comma?” (Extreme pretentiousness aside. Even though I love ‘em and their argyle sweaters.)

(The debate is strong on this one. The Oxford comma. Not the sweaters.)

Some teacher somewhere probably told you that a paragraph should be at least three sentences. That every sentence needs a subject and verb. That you should never, under any circumstances, use incomplete sentences.

(Side note, because this whole post is one big side note heaped upon side notes: Teachers do realize that poetry is incomplete sentences a lot of the time, yeah? And they’re okay with that…)

You might have heard, once upon a time in a land far, far away, that you shouldn’t switch between first and second and third person. That you should NEVER (you best cross yourself) write in the passive voice. That every story should start at the very beginning.

Maybe someone forbid you to use metaphors and similes and analogies. (I don’t know why, just trying to cover all the bases and possibilities here…) Or cautioned you against using humor in your writing. Or told you that there’s no place for irony or sarcasm. (Even though you totally had to learn all these things…)

Why is the big question.

When you were in school and learning to read and write and do some ‘rithmetic, great. Let’s all use proper grammar so you know HOW to use it. Let’s all learn how to write sentences so you know HOW to combine words properly. Let’s all learn the parts of speech (*ahem, noun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, interjection, pronoun, conjunction, ahem*) so you know HOW to use adverbs and adjectives and – oh hell, why not  – interjections to spice things up. 

Whoa. Not TOO spicy now.

But…beyond that? Now that you’re out in the real world with a real business that’s trying to keep it real? Realer than real? Real AF? Why do you need to keep following all those rules? 

Seriously. Ask yourself why.

While you’re at it, also ask yourself:

  • Do you still use these style rules?

  • Do you WANT to use them?

  • How do they affect your writing?

  • Do they feel like you?

  • How can you break them?

Because here’s the thing: High school grammar and punctuation rules do not apply here.

I feel like we should put up a sign in the window. You know, like the ones at the corner drugstore when you were a kid that tried to stop more than one student from coming in at a time.

Writing for the web and writing for YOUR business are entirely different than writing for Mrs. Iceberg or writing for a faceless corporate entity.

Doesn’t it stand to reason that the same rules do not apply?

Just think about it. Think about all the grammar and punctuation and style rules you’ve been taught. All the things you’ve been told good writing is and isn’t. Just think. Maybe make a list if you’re feeling list-y.

And…if you’re feeling all teenage rebellion angsty and are itching to get out your spray paint and whatever else the kids are doing to stick it to the man these days, why not take it one step further?

That’s a rhetorical question.

What’s one rule you’re really holding on to? Maybe it’s only writing in complete sentences. Ugh. Or never starting a sentence with a conjunction. 

How can you let go of this rule to make your writing better? 

Once you’ve zeroed in on your rule and circled it angrily 30 times with a giant permanent marker, I want to hear all about it so I can share in your rule-breaking awesomeness. Tell me how you’re going to start making some changes. Viva la résistance! 

Also…if you enjoyed this lesson wrapped up in a rant, have you checked out 10 Days to Better Than Okay Copy? It’s just one of the things we cover on the inside. Get on the inside here.