Why I Don’t Write About Writing

Buy this book, read it, and keep it handy.
Buy this book, read it, and keep it handy.

Daily Prompt: Island of Misfit Posts

We all have something we’d like to write about, but that doesn’t really “fit” our blog. Write it anyway.

I write a lot, but never give advice about writing. There are reasons. First, I should have some sort of academic training to boast about. Second, I should be a better writer to take on the task of directing others. Third, writing is highly subjective. Fourth, I don’t like being critical of the earnest efforts of others especially when the discipline is highly subjective.

Back when I started to take writing seriously a writer who lived in another part of the country began to give me some writing advice; try to accomplish as much as possible by dialogue, don’t change the point of view, and don’t use passive voice.

That was good advice.

He shared a couple chapters from a novel he was writing. I quickly pointed out a flood of examples of passive voice and rewrote some paragraphs that could have been better served with dialogue.

He stopped emailing me.

Giving advice, especially on something a person is passionate about, can cost friendships. Certainly it must not have been much of a friendship to begin with, but that episode sticks with me. I seldom give advice or write about writing.

A few years ago I built an apartment for my wife and I. After it was completed we invited a couple over. He was a craftsman. He made a living restoring and remodeling homes, not for schmucks like me, but for people who had real dough. The first thing he said upon arrival was, “Don’t show me all the flaws in your work. The place looks fine. Whenever people invite my wife and I over they think they have to show me their mistakes. I don’t go around and showing them the crap I’ve messed-up and nobody knows about.” We had a great evening.

So here is my advice:

1. Follow the accepted structure of all good writing; sentences, paragraphs, and dialogue.

2. Let your characters tell the story through dialogue – put them to work.

3. Write simple sentences.

4. Use simple words. Three simple words are better than one pretentious word. Okay, three simple words are better than one word filled with a bunch of hoopty-do.

5. Write honest.

6. Write often.

7. Accept criticism.

8. Find your own voice (your own way of writing, there‘s only room for one Steinbeck in this world ).

9. Don’t get too hung up on rules. Develop a writer’s ear. Sometimes what is good grammatically or structurally does not sound good. Write what sounds good.

10. Writing is art. Every painter has their own style. Every writer has theirs.

It all boils down to this, write good stuff.

Misfit bloggers:

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30 comments

    • I have read portions of his book. I agree, excellent. He breaks the so called rule on adverbs. “Never let an adverb get in the way of good writing.”
      So if nobody uses them, why not just pick up a few and see how they work?
      The point really is, “Don’t let rules get in the way of good writing.”

  1. You have put some of the best advice ever in a nutshell! First of all, I like your craftsman friend’s philosophy very much! Writing is indeed an art and a craft and people who would pick apart an artist’s or craftsman’s work are truly anti-social and destructive. I have been a free-lance editor and enjoy doing that and I can tell you it is much better when someone has asked for that service specifically. As an editor, I work closely with my authors and gain agreement with them on what we are doing together–rather than rip their work to shreds and lose their voice etc.

    Interesting that you have a picture of your Strunk & White there! Mine is next to the computer and I’ve had it since 8th grade. And you are so right that in writing, rules can and should be broken when they don’t serve.

    I don’t agree one should be formally trained in order to give good advice to other writers. I personally think formal training ruins writers a lot of times. Too many rules, too many “supposed-to’s.” A writer writes–such as yourself–and unfortunately that kind of experience and know-how is seldom gotten in a classroom.

    Enjoy reading your writing and blog as always!

  2. So glad you responded to this prompt! I really enjoyed reading that (and the replies). I don’t think the lack of academic training has any relevance at all. I love reading your writing, and maybe this one most of all. So much thoroughly good sense. I may even print it out. 🙂

  3. Great advice. I’m always weary about imparting my own to others. I get into the conversation of who am I to be giving others advice. There’s no wrong way to write- that’s what I love about this craft.

  4. First of all I’m not a writer but I think I can recognize good writing. I decided to follow your blog and to get as many stories that I can afford via KIndle at some point in the future.

    But maybe since I am not a writer I should not even weigh in on this post. But I have this to offer. Whether one is a writer or not does not matter because if you are putting something down on a blog then you need some basic direction. Therefore this post interested me because I want to improve what ever trivial information I happen to put on my blog for others to read.

    I think the avearage blogger might certainly benefit from the book that you have mentioned.

    ~yvonne~

  5. Thanks once again for the pingbacks! I try to stick to traditional writing rules as much as possible. I think, though, that the real magic happens when you can find the right mix of writer’s voice, proper grammar, sentence structure and knowing when to break the rules – and getting away with it, because your piece is so awesome that nobody noticed it. I found that with time, those little noticed mistakes shout out at you no matter how hard you try to ignore them.

    Great advice!

  6. Great advice! I am just starting as a writer, and I appreciate your comments- it’s great to have criticism, in fact it’s necessary to good writing I think… but there is a time and a place for others to simply be nice and say good job.

    • Sometimes criticism comes down to personal preference.
      Some one said to me about dialogue I was writing. They said it would be better another way. I said, “But that’s the way it was said.”
      “It’s fiction,” he said.
      “Maybe to you it is, but this is how it happened in my head and I ain’t lyin’.”

  7. I have the first edition of ‘Elements of Style’ which I must admit I have yet to open. Your post has encouraged me to dig it out! A fantastic post, I really enjoyed it. You should break your own rules more often 🙂

  8. Great advice here. =)

    I always find when reading a great storyteller, I will overlook any kind of grammatical mistakes or weirdly constructed sentences they may have (unless those sentences break the magic of the story). Picking on flaws just makes you unable to see past them, which is a huge pity, because sometimes those flaws can be worth overlooking for the story.

Blather away, if you like.

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