In August 2019, ProWritingAid sponsored one of The Writing Cooperative’s monthly writing challenges.
The topic was:
Breaking the Rules (or Not)
What writing rules do you like to break? What writing rules do you always follow?
At The Writing Cooperative, we’re all about helping each other write better. Your submission for this Challenge should address one or both of the above questions by explaining your personal rule-breaking or rule-following practices, and making a case for why other writers might want to employ the same strategies.
You may be surprised to find that we chose a writer who argues to ignore a grammar rule that our editing software would flag, but writing is about more than the rules. Writing is about making a compelling point in a persuasive way. And our winner definitely did that. Her grammar and writing technique was near perfect, aside from the one rule that she purposely chose to flout for impact.
The winner, Heather M. Edwards, wrote about the pure joy of casting off the shackles of one writing convention: capitalization.
We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
image source: Tegan Mierle
i don’t know how many people are naked when they get engaged. but when one of my best friends got engaged while skinny-dipping on a lake-top mountain in Oregon i remembered that reed-filled lake. it rustles like grass when it’s summer shallow. by the time the huckleberries are ripe the evening mosquitoes have gone and the afternoon dragonflies signal that fall is coming.
sometimes, when we let go of formality, expectations, we can be like that. the natural world at its best.
shedding uppercase obligations like a bikini kicked off on the dock can reunite you with the natural world, your naked self with the true nature of what you most want to say. it seems more streamlined. sure, peeling off protocol like wet spandex only saves milliseconds from the drag of unnecessary weight when you’re professionally bound to follow the rules. but it feels nice.
in the majority of my personal correspondence and much of my graphic design i shirk the responsibility of capitalization but always adhere to correct punctuation. sometimes I even (begrudgingly) use the Oxford comma. i dislike this serial comma, it feels old-fashioned — like two spaces unnecessarily corseting a sentence when you’re not even using a typewriter. however, antiquated or not, i’m bowing back down to its prevalence.
make no mistake, i’m not uncivilized. i still capitalize the names of people, places, religions, demonyms and other proper names out of respect but everything else becomes an unburdened delphine glide through the waters when i don’t require myself to capitalize the beginning of every. single. sentence.
though it may leave some writers feeling under-dressed at the opera i feel unbridled and perhaps even more honest diving in without capital letters. or maybe it’s just a vice i indulge, like a drink at the end of a long day. but ignoring the scaffolding makes me feel like i can focus on the foundation and experience the true content of what’s inside the building.
and since the trappings of modern life require much bureaucracy, the carousel of which is the never-ending filling out of official forms — the doctor’s office, the dmv, the dentist, taxes, applications, CVs, social security, even downloading a tabata timer app has become unnecessarily formalized, any informality we allow ourselves can feel rejuvenating.
don’t let the pearl-clutchers tell you there’s anything deleterious about dropping this convention when you can. writing without capitalization doesn’t unduly burden your reader either. just like learning to read right to left the human brain adjusts with unexpected precision. there is actually no cognitive sacrifice if you’ve always read left to right. reading without capital letters takes but a few seconds for your eyes to adjust. it is merely a stylistic courtesy. you can still drive through these familiar neighborhoods without ever having to check for stop signs or speed limits. you always know your way home.
in the rare moments when we can be our most stripped-down selves, there’s an honesty i find liberating in throwing off the proverbial bowlines.
but not everyone feels chained by capitalization. online dating is just an anonymous portal where you use writing to flirt with strangers via over-crafted messages. and once, when i tried to impress a professor i was flirting with, it didn’t work.
“postscript — did you ever see that facebook quiz ages ago where you choose your favorite band and use only their song titles to answer 20-some questions about yourself and your life? it’s outstanding and people’s answers are hilarious.” i told a man who was more educated than i am.
“post post — i really prefer writing in lower-case :)” i was a lowly college grad with only one major and no minors. i was feeling less than.
the phd responded with a smiley face, a small petal fluttering down from his ivory tower.
“I’m going to write in both lower and uppercase so we don’t descend into utter anarchy and chaos, and so society as we know it does not come to a screeching halt. :)”
i was mildly disappointed. if he wasn’t accepting me for my purest two-dimensional self how could he be attracted to three-dimensional me without the armor of my hair and makeup if he wasn’t charmed by this little overture? could he ever love an unexceptional woman in her pajamas? and who is prone to hyperbole?
“I’m begrudgingly lapsing back into law-abiding, tax-paying grammar and syntax to facilitate the possibility of a utopian society. If it works, you’re welcome :)” i wrote back with a casual cheekiness i didn’t actually feel. i had wanted him to like my gesture of vulnerability, and i wanted him to reciprocate the informal simplicity of it. i don’t think he was a craven man, necessarily. but now, his “but what will society say?” gasp makes me laugh.
we use emojis and ellipses and ALL CAPS as proxies to humanize our two-dimensional conversations. the digital syntax that’s evolved to help us communicate and connect without facial expressions, raised eyebrows, body language, laughter, and tone of voice doesn’t always work. but if e e cummings can revolutionize 20th-century poetry by abandoning every last grammar rule he ever learned we can experiment in our private writing by relieving ourselves of just one.
since writing in lowercase is of no significant detriment to your writing nor to your reader try this guilty pleasure. see if it reminds you of skinny-dipping. see if it feels easy and freeing, like you’re getting away with something that shouldn’t be forbidden in the first place.
we don’t have to move through life in a perpetual state of nudity or pajama-clad vulnerability to live freely and honestly. but in a world where most people seem to feel overworked and underpaid some of the simplest pleasures give the deepest joy. it might be fleeting in its frequency but the freedom to be our truest selves is no cheap thrill.
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