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. I’ve actually never heard this rule before but I must say, I’m glad I haven’t. I have enough things to flag and fix while editing without looking for all the ups and downs. 🙂 Oh all those pesky rules…
    I picture a stuffy college professor with his reading glasses on, skimming my romance novel then tossing it aside because he read the words ‘sat down’. That would be my luck. heh heh heh
    I try not to give into intellectual snobbery when I’m looking for real world writing advice. I’d be curious to know where you read that advice.

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    1. Hmmm, maybe I’m exposed to too much wonky reading advice, Dana. Today, I read it here, and most of the advice in that article is good. In this case, I don’t believe it’s snobbery, but someone, somewhere, commented that up and down, used this way, are unnecessary adverbs, so it keeps getting passed on, even though there’s good evidence for it’s use by acclaimed authors.

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  2. and lawdy be in a bucket – but when you are a southern/appalachian author, well – we love our “ups” and out “little bits” and all manner of stuffs they’s tells us’ses not to do but I do if if I right do feel like it, huhn! 😀

    I save my pet peeves for other thangs – go ‘head and use those ups and downs!

    ‘Sides, I always tell writers: convince your audience and you have done your job – and just (ha! just!) do the best you can do – don’t let all the advice out there hang you up(cause it can’t hang you down).

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      1. Dana – at first I read it as “I wish I could like this comment, . . . but I just don’t!” laughing! then I realize d -oh yeah! “like” as in “the like button” *haw!*

        Lawd! 😀

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    1. Great attitude, Kat. 🙂 I support the use of limited adverbs, but sometimes these “rules” go too far. And it certainly stifles your voice when you follow them too strictly. I’m all about voice to make that story sing.

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      1. Yes! 😀 . . . I can be a poodly stick in the mud about some things (the editor side of me warring with my creative side) but, dang if sometimes it ain’t nice to let fly some rule breakin’ 😀

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  3. I received an e-mail quite recently from a writer. He’s having a hard time with all these rules of writing, and all the how-to books. He said that it made him feel like writing was coming down to a paint by numbers kind of job. This type of blanket statment you write about here shows me just why writers can be overwhelmed and confused and as you say, think they’re ignorant.
    For a long while I got hung up on so many of these rules, but began to see that every one of these rules has purpose and place. Voice, cadence, they come first before chopping all my ups and downs.

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    1. I agree, Jennifer, it takes experience to put these how-to-write rules in proper perspective. Unfortunately, by then, many of us have to battle to unlearn some of these “rules” so we can hear our true writing voices. I’m glad to hear you’re able to do that.

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  4. 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!

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    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. 🙂

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  5. 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)?

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  6. 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.

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    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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