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Writing Rebels: How Breaking Rules Can Help Your Writing Stand Out

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I love rules. In almost every aspect of my life, I’m a rule follower. However, the one place I always break rules is in my writing. I spent too many years in a classroom being lectured by English teachers to give in.

There have been too many assignments I was inspired by, only to have my ideas crushed by the assignment guidelines. Introduction, thesis statement, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion, all in 1000 words. If I can do it in 300 words, why make me fill the rest with fluff? More often than not, I have to change the way I write to fit these guidelines and although I accomplish the task, my writing sounds like everyone else’s (boringgg).

I especially had a rough time in high school because I refused to change the way I wrote. It was my unique way of writing and changing it felt like I was being punished. My Dad (who happens to be a badass author) always told me that good, creative writing is an important skill that few people have. However, creative writing doesn’t always follow the rules.

It wasn’t until college that I finally got to write the way that I wanted to. For a lot of college students, an assignment with no prompt or guidelines is daunting, but to me, it's an invitation to get creative and break rules. Writing without direction or rules is a dream, and I take the opportunity any chance I can get.

The problem is, we sit through years of school just to be told that every story needs a beginning, middle, end, thesis statement, conflict, resolution… the list goes on. At the end of the day, it all sounds the same. But I never wanted my writing to sound like everyone else's. Being different catches people’s attention but more importantly, it catches them by surprise. Breaking rules in writing can get you noticed and if you do it correctly, it can gain you some serious praise.

Real-life application of rule-breaking

While I recognize that academic writing is different from creative writing, all those rules ruin individuality. Some brands nowadays are so obsessed with staying within the lines of what “works” that they end up putting out messaging that all sound the same.

A great example of this was the messages that brands put out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every ad agency’s favorite line became “in these uncertain times”. Brands consistently put out the same exact messages for months. Although it was an unprecedented time, brands had every opportunity to differentiate themselves yet few did.

Guinness was one of the few brands that put out messaging early in the pandemic that was lighthearted and not all doom and gloom. Their St. Patrick's Day Advertisements showed celebration, drinking, and lots of smiles in a time where people felt scared and uncertain. Their tone, even the music they chose, was an indication of how they were choosing to be different. Although they had the opportunity to assure consumers that we were “in this together”, they took a risk and chose a different message. They broke through the noise because they were different and received lots of praise and recognition for it.

Recently, I collaborated with Kim, Carly, and Gabby on the TikTok guide. The guide is humorous, yet informative but most importantly it’s different. Nobody would think to hand a guide to their client with jokes that make fun of them (in the nicest way possible), but it works. It’s surprising and to me, it was extremely refreshing. Since I’m still in college, writing with attitude and humor is not something I get to do often. I got to include jokes and slang I use in my everyday life and write about something I’m passionate and knowledgeable of; TikTok!

While I can follow rules when they’re given to me, my best, most authentic writing happens when there are no rules or restrictions. I am allowed to write whatever I want, however I want. No matter what your English teacher told you, good writing doesn’t follow a set structure or list of rules. Good writing is weird, unpredictable, and whatever you want it to be. In fact, the blog posts I posted to my website are what helped me get involved with Digital Surgeons.

Following the rules is boring and everyone does it, and you don't want to sound like everyone else, do you? In case you need encouragement: break the rules, who wants to be a rule follower anyway?

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