Advice, Fiction, Writing

Do you write up and down?

Sometimes I read writing advice that irritates me. One blanket “rule” I read this morning, for the umpteenth time, is to never use up and down with verb forms of sit and stand. Never? Really. May I ask why?

chairTheir answer would be because those words are redundant. Technically, I agree—although, of course, it’s possible to sit up or stand down. But for this rule, they’re referring to the use of up with forms of to stand and down with forms of to sit. (They also add that usage of these offending words marks your writing as amateur, which I don’t agree with, and I’ll show you why, later.)

I don’t follow that writing “rule”—or rather, I don’t follow it rigidly. I consider each usage separately. Sometimes I add up or down, and sometimes I don’t. I use whichever sounds right to me and/or provides clarity in that sentence.

I admit that when I first came across this “rule”, I uttered an oh-what-an-ignorant-writer-am-I “Uh-oh” and flagged every use of up and down I found in my WIP. Then, the phrase “she sat down” popped out at me in a Pulitzer-winning novel I was reading, so I checked the work of some other writers represented on my bookshelves to see if they observed this no up and down “rule”.

In case you’re wondering, note that Flannery O’Connor, Anne Tyler, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Richard Russo, Tim O’Brien, Stephen King, Annie Proulx, Barbara Kingsolver, and Tom Perrotta do write such “redundant” phrases as: stand up, stood up, stands up, sit down, sits down, and sat down. I could check more authors’ work, but I think that’s pretty strong company, don’t you?

My writing advice for today: Please evaluate writing advice. It doesn’t always apply to your writing. And even when it does, it may not apply all of the time.

24 thoughts on “Do you write up and down?”

  1. Thanks for the reminder that rules are meant to be broken, at least sometimes. I learned this when I was dutifully responding to my committee when finshing my dissertation. One person was telling me to eliminate all split infinitives–not a bad idea, except that some were in direct quotes from expert. I figured quoting accuratey trumped the rule. Go figure!


    1. I’d say so too, Patti. In fact, if a line of dialogue containing a split-infinitive rings true to me, I don’t change it. I use them when I speak, and I’m not alone. Often, to my ear, it sounds stilted when I revise to eliminate a split-infinitive. Of course, a dissertation and a novel are different animals. 🙂


  2. I didn’t know there were rules about writin’. 🙂

    How does a person sit in a chair if you can’t use sit (or sat), or stand if they can’t stand (or stood)?


  3. Since I don’t have any writing in front of me to evaluate, I’m going to guess that I would take “up” and “down” out of my current writing, but mainly because I’ve been trying to simplify. However, I agree with you, we should “evaluate writing advice.” I think it can get awfully silly to make blanket statements over every single word in the dictionary. Lately it feels like I read quite a lot of nit picking. Each piece of writing should stand on its own and be edited as such.


    1. I agree, Victoria. That’s why I try to avoid stating rules—though, obviously, I do give my opinion on rules. I’d rather say, “This is what works for me; try it if you want.” Sometimes, I’m a real rebel and don’t even bother to see if there’s a rule about the way I want to write something. 🙂


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