I visited home a few months ago and had some great conversations about writing with friends and family, many of whom are avid readers. And thank heavens because avid readers make for apt audiences and supportive fans (you guys rock!). Something that came up over and over? Random writing “rules” that I spend every day trying to abide by, and modify my habits to follow and improve my writing.Here are some things I struggle with as I write. And trust me, every writer has their demons they try to hide behind pretty words and a smile.
1. Adverbs. There is a heated debate between writers, editors, and whoever else wants to jump into the fray with a machete and scream adverb profanities—I STRONGLY DISAGREE WITH YOUR HORRIBLY WORDED ARGUMENT THAT ADVERBS ARE ONLY OKAY.
I fall in the ‘everything in moderation’ camp and try to keep my machete sheathed whenever possible. That being said, I agree that adverbs are most often a lazy solution so the writer can skip showing. Yet, on the other hand, get on with the action! I don’t need a one paragraph description detailing how the character opened the book gently.
2. Just, only, so, well, very, and all the other unnecessary word vomit. There are better words. These are often filler words that clog up the well-oiled machine that is prose and even dialogue. Writing is most often a formal affair. It deserves words that do your story justice, not the words of a fifteen year old Valley girl popping her gum and filling her mom’s gas tank at the local Texaco.
3. Clarity. Sometimes the words refuse to convey what you’re actually trying to say. What the fuck, words? Get your shit together.
Actually, it’s my fault. In my head, it makes sense. But readers aren’t in my head (thank heavens), and they need a bit more to go on than a pronoun war throughout a scene involving two+ ladies and/or two+ gents.
4. Condensing. That awkward moment when you use too many words, and you have to unsheathe your machete and hack them out with the care of a rampaging rhino—blind and afraid with only a face-horn to protect you.
Kind of like that sentence just now.
5. Show don’t tell. A friend wanted me to explain this, and I was at a loss for words. WHAT? A WRITER—WORDLESS? BLASPHEMY.
Show don’t tell is best defined using examples. Tell: “I am afraid.” Show: “My heart pumped like a jackhammer. My ribs clamped down across my lungs.”
Basically, telling is lazy and boring. And sometimes I get lazy. Especially during that first draft when your fingers are maniacal—tapping away in a fervor just to keep up with your brain.
6. Endings. I have to know the end goal or the words will become a rambling mess of shit piled onto paper made of shit, then thrown in the trash with the other shit. This goes hand-in-hand with knowing your process, which is yours and yours alone.
7. Word repetition. No matter what, we all do this. Once you use a word, it’s easier to call it to your fingers as they plod over that keyboard. It’s science.
No, really. It’s science. Words you use often travel well-worn neural pathways—aka they’re easier to call to mind. It’s like learning/using a second or third language. Once you start speaking and writing and listening to it, and reaching for it more often, the recall becomes easier and easier. It’s why I still say stimmt... and egal… and schade… It’s my brain’s fault, really.
Anyway, once you use an adjective or verb once or twice, it’s all you can think of when you need to say the same thing again without using the same word. Science, y’all.