I was very lucky when I was newer to writing to stumble upon Agent Query Connect and somehow get myself into the Speculative Fiction group there. I started doing the summer critique marathon to hone my manuscripts, and I have entered every year since I first wrote Kindar's Cure (the second of my nearly six manuscripts). All of my ms have been critiqued there.
I remember my first marathon when I was getting weekly critiques for the first twelve chapters of Kindar. The group consisted of writers with all levels of experience--some were just starting, a few had agents, some soon made book deals. (Even more of us have had success now.) Back then it was a struggle to remember all the rules of writing. We used to have debates about how to cut out all the "was/were" usages from our manuscripts. Taking out all the "was/were" and rewriting sure made for some awkward and twisted sentences. We worried out how many adverbs might be allowable. We argued on whether we should stray from "said/asked" as dialogue tags into the more inventive "shouted" or "whispered" or other form of label for speaking. We counted each exclamation mark and wondered if there was a magic number of them that was too many for an agent to let slip past. Some even preached against using any -ing verbs. In other words, we sweated the small stuff.
There is an art to teaching yourself to avoid "to be" verbs and using action verbs instead. It really didn't come naturally to me at first. But trying to remove ninety-five percent of them was a mistake. Oh, I still avoid them as much as possible and keep them out of description the best I can, but now I've relaxed as a writer and know they aren't the ending of all things. It's all right if "was/were" slips in, especially in character inner thoughts. It feels more unnatural not to have them.
The same with dialogue tags. A few "he commanded" in place of "he said" never killed anything. I'm no longer frightened by the sight of an 'ly word in my manuscript, though I do avoid pairing them with the dialogue tags. I have learned not to let my characters shout loudly for example. :-)
My editor actually add exclamation marks in places during our content edit of Grudging and told me they are okay when needed. They aren't the bane of edit/agent existence as I'd supposed.
I was particularly fixated on cutting all the filtering from my manuscripts. It was my writing religion. They are extra word count after all, not really needed. As bad as the crutch words like 'just, even, still and back." I struck out all the "she heard, he looked, and they knew." But now on my sixth manuscript, I let a few of these despicable blackguards filters slip back in. They have their uses and can be helpful at establishing character after a POV change.
The critique group no longer points out semi-colons, determine not to use too many. My editor changed many of the ones I had to dashes. Dashes seem to be the new cool tool. But using semi-colons no longer scares me. They are just another punctuation.
Yes, there are rules to the pure writing side, the putting words to paper creativity. And sweating the small stuff at first and learning to follow those rules is part of the process of growing as a writer.
Because rules are meant to be broken. And the good thing about experience is it gives you the instinct to know when is the right time to break the rules and add that adverb. Practice may never makes perfect in writing, but it does give the confidence to stop sweating the small stuff.
Or maybe it means you've conquered the small stuff.
Where are you on the journey? Do you sweat the small stuff yet? Don't worry if you do. It leads to better things!