Wednesday, September 09, 2009


All my life I have been a rule follower. I never got in trouble in school, never got called to the principal’s office or got detention or got so much as a single conduct check. Oh, I did plenty of things as a teenager that would have given my parents a heart attack if they knew about them, but they never did. Thank God.

But, in a socialized setting like school or work, I generally follow the rules. Not to say I wouldn’t break a few rules in a life or death situation, but in day to day life I am a rule follower.

Once, several years ago while painting my daughter’s room, I sliced open my thumb and had to get stitches. The doctor sewed me up and the nurse put a tight bandage on my thumb and told me to come back to the office on Monday. (This happened on a Friday.) I spent Friday and Saturday in massive pain from this simple injury.

I’m not usually a weenie when it comes to such things. I’ve broken bones, been severely sunburned, burned my arm on the stove, had several surgeries and had two children, so I was surprised by the pain in my thumb. I couldn’t sleep. Pain pills didn’t touch it. It throbbed without mercy.

Finally, unable to stand it any longer, I went back to Pri Med on Sunday, the day before I was scheduled to return, and told the male nurse of my misery. Could I have severed a nerve? I asked. He seemed puzzled. “No, you shouldn’t be in this kind of discomfort,” he said. “Let’s remove the bandage and see what’s going on.” He took the bandage off and the relief was immediate. The deep, throbbing pain simply vanished as if by magic. The nurse went pale. My thumb was a dark ugly purple, almost black. He had put the bandage on too tight, cutting off the blood flow to my thumb.

Yep, you guessed it. My poor thumb was dying from lack of circulation, and that is why it hurt like the very devil. It was SCREAMING for help and, being a rule follower and following the nurse’s instructions not to remove the bandage, I had ignored the message my body was sending me. HEY, DUMMY, TAKE OFF THE STUPID BANDAGE. HELLO! HELLO? STUPID COW, I’M DYING HERE!

I admit that the cow remark hurt my feelings, but my thumb taught me a lesson. I resolved right then and there to be less of a rule follower . . . and to pay more attention to my thumb.

Interestingly enough, my husband is not a rule follower. Opposites attract, or so they say.

Okay, here’s the point of all of this. What rules do you follow in your own writing, and which ones do you disregard? I admit to the judicious use of the occasional adverb, even though they are frowned upon and considered a sign of lazy writing. And I don’t do a lot of plotting and organization on paper before I begin a story, although I think about it a lot and plot it in my head. Actually, I think about it pretty much ALL the time. I don’t follow any kind of formula or guideline, which may or may not be a good thing. I am, after all, unpublished and only time will tell if I’m on the right path.

So, do you follow the rules or break ‘em when you write?


Callie James said...

For me, I follow the rules I've created to stay in line with my style of writing. Like, I don't jump POV in the same scene, unless I do a break. This is just my own personal tastes. I rarely do POV outside of hero, heroine, or villain. Again, just my thing.

I think I keep to my own rules, not necessarily others' rules, and it works for me. And you know what? I use adverbs. Oh, I don't beat 'em to death, but I don't think they're taboo as much as some do, either.

Wonderful blog, Jeanie. And I'm glad you didn't lose your thumb! Jeesh.

JoAnn said...

I'm like you, Jeanie -- I would totally have done the same thing had I been in your thumb situation!

Breaking the rules is not in my psychological makeup. Once, when I was about 8 or 9, I was invited to go home from school with a friend. My mother said I could--IF I cleaned my room. Now, cleaning is not in my psychological makeup either, so on the day of the scheduled playdate, my mother told me I could not go. I was devastated. When it came time to go home from school, I did the unthinkable -- I broke the rule-- and went home with the friend.

I had a perfectly miserable time. I knew I was going to get a spanking when I got home and spent the whole afternoon in tears.

I have never broken a rule since.

You believe that, don't you? :-)

Jeanie said...

I'm with you, Callie, at least when it comes to my writing. I have to follow what feels right for me and my story. So, in that respect, I guess I am a rule breaker! And I think it's okay to use the occasional adverb if you don't overdo it. I also try to stick to one POV within a scene, although plenty of published writers head hop, especially during sex scenes! THe book I am currently working on is told mostly from the heroine's POV, with occasional use of the hero's POV. But, I also have one chapter from the POV of the heroine's best friend. (She's the heroine in the next book, so that works for me to introduce her to the reader).

Jeanie said...

JoAnn, you and I have a lot in common. I would have done EXACTLY the same thing. I would not have been able to enjoy myself one little bit for worrying about what was going to happen when I got home. My mother never had to catch me at anything, because I was ALWAYS confessing to her. And a guilty conscience just kills me to this day!

Louisa Cornell said...

I too tend to write my story and follow the rules that fall into its parameters. I know there are times when my book definitely does NOT follow the rules, but I have to tell the stories as the characters tell it to me and I don't think they know the rules at all!!

Now I do try not to head hop or have vague segues where the reader has no idea whose head we're in. I am trying really hard to make sure I follow all of the grammar rules.

Then of course I write Regency historicals so that is a whole different set of rules that I HAVE to follow or the Regency police will hunt me down and beat me to death with a reticule!

Christine said...

I am a former "good girl" who went "rebel" for a while--but at heart I always was a true blue compass points north kinda girl. Now I am probably a hybrid with a heart for people and compassion for the world.

As for writing rules: hmmm this was just an issue I asked about in a recent workshop. I've discovered that some rules need to bending on occasion for the sake of my voice/story. Some rules I personally stick to: POV doesn't change in scene, try to use adverbs less than more, avoid passive voice as much as possible, and I have a writing grid for my Pivotal Plot Points to make sure I do hit the mark--but it can be jimmied a bit.

I'm still learning... still growing... still open to the idea that I might be breaking a rule and not know it! And I am a comma challenged writer.

Great post and hope your thumb heals soon!

Jeanie said...


Yes, there are definitely certain rules to follow in writing Regency, but I think you've managed to shake them up a bit. Come on, girl. The Man Whore book? If that's not coloring outside the lines, what is?

And like Christine, I am still learning and, hopefully, still growing as a writer. I'm growing in other areas too, but we won't talk about that here, she said as she ate another brownie.

I, too, am comma challenged! Arggh!

Diane Richmond said...

I follow the rules. Do I always like it? No, but I adhere to that principle: What goes around, comes around. It is just easier for me. I am not so steadfast in my writing. I try different things and am not adverse at chucking something that just doesn't feel right.

Good luck on your writing. You'll do well. Trust your instincts.

Stern Rake Studio said...

I pretty much forgot most of the grammar & punctuation rules and now I write by instinct. Since work within a niche market this has been okay--so far. I'm sure I'll get into trouble later.

I'm retired Air Force and the military does not like passive voice used in correspondence. So I strive to maintain an active voice.

Beyond that, I'm writing by "the seat of my pants..."

Jeanie said...

Ted (I think that's you?)

I do a lot of seat-of-the-pants writing myself, but I do try to follow the rules about POV and active voice. As for the grammar thing, I will be the first to admit that I am comma challenged.
Good to hear from you!