Breaking the Rules

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While Zac takes some time off, today's Promptly guest post comes from WD Editor Jessica Strawser.

Back when I was a student in journalism school, I took an advanced magazine feature writing class. We began by studying selections from master feature writers—our visiting professor among them—and discussing what made them such exemplary pieces. Then, each of us undertook an elaborate article project that involved extensive research in the field or, in my case, at the local library, studying local newspaper archives on microfilm to research the history of a Main Street theater that was under restoration.

When it came time to workshop our articles in class, I felt fairly confident about my story. I'd interviewed owners and employees, past and present. I'd drawn a narrative thread of the building's transformation from performance hall to Vaudeville house to movie theater through various eras in the small town's history. When it was my turn to garner feedback, I fidgeted only a little in my chair.

One of my classmates raised her hand. "I think when the overall writing is strong like this is, it's OK to have broken some rules," she said. Others nodded.

Because the consensus was generally positive, I smiled self-consciously and looked down at my own copy of my story. I hoped no one could read the baffled expression I was concealing. I hadn't been aware that I'd broken any rules. Which ones?

It nagged me for days—if I didn't know what they were, how would I know whether or not it was really OK to break them again? And how could I not have known in the first place? I was at the top of my class—but had I missed something crucial on the way there? I was too embarrassed to ask.

Ultimately, I decided that it didn't really matter either way, as long as I was doing something right. My new rule, I decided, would be to keep making my own. But I can still remember the details of that workshop today—perhaps because, truth be told, I still don’t have the slightest idea what they were referring to.

Which leads me to today’s prompt.


Write a story about unknowingly breaking a rule, in 500 words or fewer. (Feel free to break some "rules" in writing it, too.)

As always, feel free to post your response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you're having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your story to with “Promptly” in the subject line, and we'll
make sure it gets posted.

Happy writing!

For more inspiration to go your own way in the writing life, don’t miss my interview with bestselling author Elizabeth Berg in the March/April issue of WD, on newsstands now and available for instant download right here.