You’ve just read a blog post somewhere about how to write well. Next you must decide if the advice you’re reading is good advice or bad advice, or if part of it is good or bad. The more you read and hear writerly advice, the more you will see certain points made over and over again.
I say, for a writer, the only rules are for grammar, punctuation and spelling, and most of us, especially beginners, had better follow them in order to be taken seriously. But after you’re more established, even these may often be bent.
However, there are some “gurus” who advise you about other topics. For example, to eliminate all modifiers. They say you should make your verbs and nouns “strong” enough so you never need a modifier. Ever. But you’ll see some quite famous writers who use modifiers liberably. What to make of all this? Moderation, of course. Yes, find a stronger verb or noun, if you can, and if the one you choose doesn’t make the sentence sound pretentious or weird. But many times a modifier makes it better. Yes, it does. I don’t ever remember seeing anyone mention flow or rhythm when they announce this rule. And they should, because those little modifiers can help with flow and mix it up so your sentences don’t sound like rifle shots—noun, verb, object, followed one after another in a constant, boring rhythm.
Other examples are the topics of point of view (POV) and “show, don’t tell.” But there are no hard and fast rules in an artist’s world.
Okay, we’ve figured out that we need to take each “rule” and turn it into a suggestion for us to follow. Or not. Some of the suggestions might hit their mark with us, with the way we write, with what we want to accomplish in a particular piece of writing. In other words, we want to remember it, to follow it.
But few of us can remember everything we want to, so we need to write stuff down. In today’s world, there is more than one way to do that—by hand or by keyboard, or even touchscreen.
I started out before everyone used the computer for almost everything. I had a spiral-bound notebook my daughter gave me, and began jotting down anything that struck me as good advice.
That notebook is now almost full. I love to go back and read through it every once in a while. Some of the stuff in there is now ingrained in me so that I don’t have to think about it anymore. Other stuff has been lost to my memory, and it’s good to read it again.
I also have lists that help me with editing, checking for my overused words using the search feature in my word processor, and lots of other tips.
Takeaway #1—The “rules” depend on a matter of style and preference. As a guideline, if you see a “rule” mentioned over and over, it might be a good idea to follow it as much as possible. And, if you think you may not remember them, write them down somewhere.
Takeaway #2–Look at the title of this post again.
Anyone have any ideas about how to organize their own personal list of rules? I love comments. We’re all in this together, so, if you have ideas, please share.
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