3 Writing Rules You've Never Heard

Also: have fun!

[Original post from Quarter Turn’s predecessor, You’re So Venn]

Others, more expert than I am, have written about writing. On every blog and social media platform you can imagine, and in enough books to keep you reading for a lifetime.

There are so many great tips and guides out there. I even read a social media profile once that worked in an oblique punctuation tip, referring to the “relaxing pause of the Oxford comma.” Clever.

And then there are those of us who get by more on instinct. Like musicians who don’t read music; they simply learned to play.

That’s me. I couldn’t diagram a sentence if you paid me to, and I gave Amy what’s-her-face a dirty look that day in 8th grade when she exclaimed, before a grammar lesson, “Oh, I love verbs!” Overachiever.

There are a few reminders I’ve picked up over time that I love, though, and think about often when I’m in the act. Reminders that help me stay on track, stay focused, and stay (mostly) concise.

Below are three that work well for informational writing, including blog posts, work memos, and probably even tweet threads. When I first heard them in high school teacher they were for term papers, but they’ve remained useful and they don’t take themselves too seriously (unlike most writing tips).

#1: It’s the economy, stupid

This one is a product of its time—since it’s been a minute since Bill Clinton campaigned for his first term as President in 1992. While on the campaign trail, he received some advice from strategist James Carville: Clinton was worrying over what the key issue was for voters, and Carville bluntly reminded him, “it’s the economy, stupid.”

This works as a rule for writing, because when I’m tempted to stray off-topic it draws me back and reminds me to refocus.

#2: Don’t get above your raisin’

I’m from the American South, hence the dropped “g” on that last word. Now, this sounds like something Jed Clampett would have told his son Jethro in the classic TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but we’re talking about authenticity here.

Own you. Write in your voice (and if you’re not sure what that is, just write until you find it). If you use words or phrases that don’t fit your voice, or that you’re really stretching for, it’ll be like a neon sign advertising that you’re trying too hard. Your writing’s best when it sounds like you.

#3: Shoot the damned dog

Lastly, an “Old Yeller” reference. Even folks in the 1950s, for whom this story was fresh, probably knew minutes into the movie (spoiler alert) that the dog was doomed. And so there’s an inevitability to the ending that means, really, a lot of the movie was just stringing people along in order to get there.

The moral of the story as a rule for writing is this: get to the point. Don’t string along your readers. You may find this rule plays out more in your editing than in the writing itself.

(Unspoken rule #4: edit, edit edit)

While these work best for informational writing, they’re good reminders for any time you sit down with paper or a keyboard, ready to compose. They’re also good reminders to have fun with it!

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