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What is the Only Rule of Writing That Really Matters?

Many writing teachers and coaches offer all manner of rules for optimum writing. Do this; don’t do that. Always include this one element; never use another. These rules make my head spin and threaten to paralyze my writing. Is it possible to compose even one sentence that doesn’t violate some critical principle?

Though I’ve given my share of recommendations, my goal is to offer suggestions not absolutes.

First, know that there are few unconditional imperatives in writing. Rules, as they say, are made to be broken. We just need to make sure we have a good reason when we do break them. Never deviate from convention just for the sake of rebelling.

Next, remember that all writing instruction is one person’s opinion, based on his or her perceptions, experiences, and training. Even when most people agree, surely other credible sources will disagree. Art, after all, is subjective.

Last, the trends and expectations of today will become tomorrow’s tedium. Remember, each new trend is the result of someone who opposed expectations.

There is only one true, unassailable rule in writing: keep your readers engaged. All else is secondary.

What writing rule irks you? Have you ever gone against a writing rule? What happened?

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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