Breaking the Rules

Publish date:

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.

Stationery vs. Stationary (Grammar Rules)

Stationary vs. Stationery (Grammar Rules)

Learn the differences of stationary and stationery on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Erik Larson Quote

Liminal Spaces: A Profile of Erik Larson

WD gives a peek at the daily routine of Erik Larson and the writing process behind his bestselling narrative nonfiction in this Nov/Dec 2020 profile by Zachary Petit.

Jennifer Boresz Engelking: On Giving Readers a New Appreciation of History

Jennifer Boresz Engelking: On Giving Readers a New Appreciation of History

Debut author Jennifer Boresz Engelking discusses what led her to write her historical nonfiction book Hidden History of Lake County Ohio and how research gave her a new appreciation for her hometown.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 19

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write an animal title poem.

Writer's Digest May/June 2021 Cover Reveal

Writer's Digest May/June 2021 Cover Reveal

Presenting the May/June 2021 issue of Writer's Digest featuring a collection of articles about how curiosity fuels writers, including the 23rd Annual 101 Best Websites for Writers and a new interview with Chris Bohjalian.

Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer

Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer

Popular lecturer and biographer Joshua M. Greene discusses the hardship of writing the biographies of Holocaust survivors, and the biography that convinced him to continue writing.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: The May/June 2021 Issue, a Chance at Publication, and more!

This week, we’re excited to announce that the May/June 2021 “Curiosity” issue is now live in the WD shop, there’s still time to have your From Our Reader’s response selected for publication in the July/August 2021 “Bravery” issue, and more!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 18

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write an ekphrastic poem.

Personal Essay Awards

Announcing the First Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the first annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards!