Writers! Break The Rules—Run With Scissors

by Randy Murray on September 26, 2013

Some rules exist for very good reasons. And they work best when you understand the WHY of the rule. A “because I say so” rule invites rebellion and testing. A rule with a clear understanding of consequences is much more likely to be obeyed.

Running with scissors is one of the clear ones, but it’s incomplete. It’s perfectly safe to run with scissors, especially if you hold them properly. What the rule should say, is “don’t run holding scissors as if you were ready to cut with them.” That’s too long to be an effective rule, so we shorten it.

And in shortening it, the rule becomes overly broad. If one were to grasp the scissors by their closed blades, they’re perfectly safe to run with. You might consider walking with them this way as well. As a Boy Scout I learned not just scissor safety, but safety of knives and edged tools. Sometimes one needs to run with dangerous and pointy things. But until you learn how to do it safely, just don’t run with them.

George Carlin was a master at language. He understood how words and rules could be absurd and hilarious. He could find the boundaries of rules and poke fun at them. One of my favorites is his: “Rules” routine from the 1970′s and I smile everything I think of the rule of “no singing at the table.”

I’m standing near the table and it isn’t even covered by your rules.

Which brings us to the running with scissors part for writers. Beginning writers are often given really good advice that, when examined, is overly broad. It’s done to protect them, to help them survive long enough to figure out how to safely run with scissors, metaphorical or otherwise. Don’t use contractions. Don’t use jargon or technical terms. Don’t use a word you haven’t used commonly in your daily speech. Don’t imitate someone else’s style. Don’t split infinitives.

Don’t do these things. Don’t do them until you understand the why of not doing them. Then you will also discover that it’s perfectly safe, acceptable, and often necessary to do all of them, but doing them with a clear recognition of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and what the risks are.

Here’s what writers need to be told: There are the rules of writing clearly and well. They’re training wheels. They’ll help you get started. And at some point you’ll be comfortable without them. You’ll know what you’re doing, what works, and what doesn’t. But until then, stick safely with the rules.


The Writers! Break The Rules—Run With Scissors by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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