WHEN TO TAKE (AND WHEN TO IGNORE) WRITING ADVICE

Writing Thoughts...Everyone thinks they’re right.

It was a simple truth a colleague said to me after a professional development for educators years ago, but it was so profound I’ve never forgotten it. Everyone thinks they know the the correct way to go about things, and no where is that more true than in the writing world. Granted, there are basic forms and processes that should be employed, but the way we each apply our craft to those forms and processes will be wildly different.

Never, ever, under any circumstances, should a writer use adverbs. But I like a well-placed adverb. How about instead of never, we use adverbs sparingly.

Avoid adjectives like the plague. What if I need an adjective to paint the perfect picture for the reader? Well, then I say use the damn adjective. Just don’t splatter them around all willy-nilly.

A good query letter has no more than a hook and two paragraphs — oops. Wonder how I ever managed to get an agent? Your query letter should be concise, professional, and the only thing it must do is hook the reader. That’s it.

Never, and I mean never, open your story with a character looking in the mirror or thinking about the weather. Okay, this one might be good, unless that mirror or the weather is going to become a character in your story. In that case, proceed with caution, but proceed none-the-less.

You should never change something in your story based on something a single person said. Maybe, but what if what that one person said really resonates with you? What are you waiting for? More confirmation for what you instinctively knew?

Don’t ever use a thesaurus because the first word that came to you is probably the word you meant to use. (Huh?) I have to admit, thesaurus.com is my best friend sometimes. But it’s not a good idea to use words you found in a thesaurus that you wouldn’t personally use in daily conversations.

All of these “rules” were probably correct, at some time or another and with a specific story. I’m not saying they’re never true, just that they’re not always true. I’m more of a middle-of-the-road type person, as you can see above. Some adverbs, some adjectives, and as someone who actually took graduate level meteorology, I happen to like a little weather in a story.

So I have to admit I’m curious, what writing “rules” have you heard passed around from those that know?

 

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One thought on “WHEN TO TAKE (AND WHEN TO IGNORE) WRITING ADVICE

  1. The utter confidence with which people dispense rules is bewildering to say the least, especially when a quick glance of almost any published novel will indicate that popular and acclaimed writers don’t always follow them. Some of the ones I’ve seen include:

    Don’t use semicolons in fiction.

    NEVER tag with anything but said.

    Don’t use participles, past continuous tense or “to be” verbs.

    Never start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction except inside dialog.

    Don’t use directional words like down or up (no walking down hallways or climbing up or down ladders).

    Never use filter words.

    Never use passive voice.

    Of course, one should be mindful of their word and punctuation choices, but there are very few “always” or “nevers” in writing from what I can tell.

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