Who ever said that rules were made to be broken was probably about to get grounded by their mom when they said it in a fleeting defense for some moment of idiocy. However, they were not far off, especially when it comes to writing.
I have been writing most of my adult life in some form or another. Because I have always had a pen in one hand as I carried on there has also always been some publisher or editor standing just over my shoulder espousing “rules”. It’s been quite annoying at times. When I was younger, I would listen, nod my head obediently and then change my behavior to fit the “rule”. Well, I’m pushing the 50 mark now and you know what I have learned after all these years? Rules be damned…(most of the time)
The “rules” tend to change with the venue in our line of work. I recently had a magazine publisher who thought that the “AP” in AP style meant “ass protection” (I kid you not) so he wanted his writers to be sure of their facts and ensure that his ass was protected. You just have no idea how hard I laughed about that one on the drive home from our first editorial meeting. Just a few days ago I had a blogging client tell me that they wanted me to always, always spell out the time in columns. Yes, as in one o’clock…all I could do was shake my head.
The “rules” of writing have literally left the building in terms of any kind of consistent “style”. Lost is the art of “AP style”. (for those of you still scratching their heads, AP stands for Associated Press and no, I have no idea who made them the style nazi’s…most of us just rolled with it through the years) Also lost is the art of proper formatting. With all of the new printing options, e-book, traditional, digital…formatting is a whole other evolving aspect of the publishing world. (It’s often hard to keep up) Let’s face it, we, as writers, are now in a profession where there are no real rules, only moments of clarity provided by often bi-polar editors and publishers who change their eating hands for fun.
So what is a writer to do in a world where the road signs change so often that the only thing you know for sure is that you are lost most of the time? The answer is simple, always read the guidelines. Every publisher has them; that set of rules whose reason for existing is known only to the guy who actually owns the publication. And once you have read those guidelines, follow them, no matter how stupid they are. I know, I know…it’s hard but it has to be done if you want to work for those publishers. Sadly there are more of them than there are the ones who follow the “rules”. I have had to swallow a lot of really stupid styles over the years but I have also made a lot of money off those same publications.
I do realize that the writer in some of you seasoned writers wants to stand up on a desk top and demand that the publisher/editor adhere to the AP style or at least something close but don’t do it…you are wasting your breath. Get your head out of the rules fellow writers…cause there are none…there are just crazy editors/publishers who believe that they are “right” and no amount of arguing will change their minds…BUT…if you shut up and write, there is money to be made and your revenge will be in knowing that, in the end, the publisher is the one who ends up looking stupid. You just need to move on to the next assignment.
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