Forgive me if I sound a bit rant-y in this post, it’s nothing against anyone personally. But I have a point to make to the generation below me. Maybe you’ve run into instances like this, or other writers who have this attitude:
“All those guidelines don’t really matter, right? Everyone basically wants things the same, it’s not like they’re going to care where my margins are or what font I use. They’re not really going to reject me / take away marks (in a competition) / etc.”
Then why do you think they wrote up all those guidelines in the first place?
Let me explain why I’m a little bit ticked off today.
As some of you know (if you’ve been around the blog a little while), I’m currently teaching English Composition at a local college. It’s a class of first years (and some seniors who avoided taking the class until now), and I’m supposed to teach them how to write research papers / other forms of academic writing, and do it well.
Last night I spent 45 minutes talking about formatting bibliographies and citations. I could have spent a lot longer… if you’ve ever picked up a Turabian, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Forty-five minutes really isn’t that long.
I talked about all the different rules that go into formatting different types of sources: Books, articles from books, journal articles, webpages, ebooks, yada yada yada. Where the period goes when you cite an article versus where it goes when you cite a reference listing. Where the commas go. Where the quotation marks should sit, and which aspects are capitalized and which are not.
There are many rules, but they’re based on an international standard of formatting. We use this across the globe, so that we can understand each other and share information easily. Imagine the chaos if we all wrote bibliographies in different ways! It would be much more difficult to find the information you need, let alone make sense of the information.
So after spending all this time talking about bibliography formatting, and pointing out that one of their texts (the Turabian) had plenty more rules, a student raised his hand and asked:
“All of these things are pretty much the same, right? Like, we’re not going to lose marks if we—”
Yeah, I stopped him right there. YES, YOU ARE. I’ve told you the rules, and you are not the exception. You cannot claim ignorance. Why do you think I spent all that time explaining the rules, and make the citation book a required course text?
They will lose marks for a period in the wrong place. For capitalizing “ed.” in a bibliographic entry. For forgetting a comma. Because those are the rules, and I (and academia) have asked you to follow them in order to be a part of what you are studying.
In the same way, when you enter a contest, or send in a query, or even send off a manuscript to a critique service, you must follow the rules. They are there for a reason. You are not the exception, and you will lose marks in a competitive situation or be immediately rejected by an agent / market if you haven’t bothered to follow their guidelines.
Doesn’t matter how great your story is. If you don’t follow guidelines, you will not succeed.
You are not the exception.
Follow the guidelines. Follow the rules, no matter how trite or pedantic. Prove to your evaluators, whether a professor or a short story market or a literary agent, that you mean business and you can cooperate with others within your field.
If you don’t?
You’ll get back a pile of red-marked sheets or a “no, thanks” every time.
Rules and guidelines for writing are there for your benefit. Prove to the world that you can listen, understand, and follow direction.
You’ll be surprised how quickly your feedback changes for the better.
Have you run into authors like this before? Writers who seem to think they’re above playing by the rules?
Or maybe you were like this as a student and know better now… maybe you’ve noticed that the younger generation often thinks this way (not everyone, don’t start crying foul!).
Or maybe you’re still not sure why following guidelines is such a big deal?