Writing advice. One things all writers are more than ready to dish out. But there are certain pieces of writing advice that you always hear- you can never seem to get away from it. I’m always in two minds about writing advice, especially ones I see frequently. Because while they can be useful, they can also be less helpful than you realise. Especially when taken too seriously.
You should read everything, good and bad
As Stephen King once said:
‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools,) to write. Simple as that.’
I’m not going to say that reading isn’t important when it comes to writing your own novel. It is. It’s a great way to see how other authors form their plots and write their characters. It can also serve as great inspiration, especially if you’ve read an incredibly good book.
But to say you have to read everything. Good and bad? Sure, you’re very likely to come across some books you hate or are badly written- it’s inevitable. But would you purposefully read a book you hate? Life is too short for that. There’s not much a bad book can tell you about writing that a good book can’t.
And to say that you have to read lots in order to be a writer? I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that. I have three (almost four,) children. I barely have time to write, let alone read. But just because I don’t read a lot, doesn’t mean I’m not a writer.
You need to write everyday
Look, if you have the time and energy to write every single day, I applaud you. It’s a great thing to making writing regularly a habit and it can definitely help you become a better writer. Or at least finish your first draft quicker.
But not everyone can write every day. Between work and school, children and other commitments, sometimes it can be hard to write every single day. And forcing yourself to isn’t always the best thing to do. You don’t need to write everyday in order to be a writer. You just need to write.
Said is dead
‘Don’t use said.’ ‘Said is dead.’ ‘Here’s 100 words to use instead of said.’
This advice is one of the more frequent ones I see floating around, and I always shake my head when I do. Not using said paves the way for a plethora of words picked straight from a thesaurus, such as ‘postulated,’ and ‘ejaculated.’ Words like these can cause your readers to stumble while they try to figure out exactly what you mean.
There is nothing wrong with using the word ‘said.’ For most people, the word is practically invisible and allows the dialogue to flow. The key here is to use any dialogue tags sparingly, and use action to show the reader the emotion behind the words. ‘Said,’ is perfectly fine most of the time, so don’t be afraid to use it.
Show, don’t tell
A good piece of writing advice, if used in the right way. Most people take it to mean, ‘don’t tell the reader anything, show them instead.’ But this can lead to over complicated and long sentences, often known as ‘purple prose.’
Likewise, just telling a reader what’s happening can leave your writing stilted and lacking emotion. Like with any piece of writing advice, finding a balance is key. You don’t want to show everything- your word count will be through the roof if you do. But you do want to show the more emotional parts.
Adverbs can kill your writing. At least, that’s what people say. Personally, I never really pay attention to this piece of advice- partly because I suck at grammar and can never remember what an adverb is. (Terrible, I know.) But I do know that using adverbs is another way to stilt your writing.
‘She crept stealthily.’ ‘He yelled angrily.’ ‘They ran quickly.’
The adverbs in the above examples are kind of redundant. Most readers will know that if you creep, you’re being stealthy, or when you yell, you’re angry. Taking those adverbs out won’t affect your writing, or how you tell your story. If you can rewrite your sentence without the adverb, then do so- ‘he raced,’ instead of ‘ran quickly,’ for example. This will help streamline your story, improve your flow and cut down on your word count, especially during revision. But if you lose what you’re trying to say without the adverb, then keep it in. Using them sparingly is key.
Writing advice isn’t a strict set of rules you need to follow. It’s there to guide you in to becoming a better writer, but only if you know how to use it to your advantage.
Good thoughts and happy writing