As writers, we read and should be reading, we should be passionate about reading. The desire to read and dive into a great story should be strong. Reading not only gives us a break from the real world, but it can also transport us to wherever the story is taking place. An escape, a mental vacation, or whatever you want to call it. It’s so nice to get into a great story.
We also read to learn about other writing styles, to see how other authors handle different scenarios, the cadence of their writing, and to learn from each author we read. There are writing styles from many authors I have found to be something I will or have incorporated into my own work. Nothing that would be a blatant rip-off but adapting a small part of their style or their technique. Learning how to be descriptive in a new way or see how others handle dialogue. It’s all a learning process but a fun and exciting one.
As authors, we also read all kinds of reference materials and “How To” books about writing, grammar, composition, genres, or styles of writing. There is so much out there to read, from hundreds, maybe thousands of “experts.” Now, many are experts and know what they’re talking about but some of those experts are also trying to sell a book. As one author of a “How To” style book said, many of the books about writing out there are full of so much unnecessary fluff.
One of the books mentioned by this same author, and by several others, is Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style”, first published in the early 20th century. This book is considered mandatory reading for any writer and it has just about everything a writer needs to know about proper writing. The book, in its current published size, is less than 50 pages long. It’s easy to understand and gets straight to the point, no fluff.
What prompted me to write this post is that a participant in one of my writing classes began talking about her writing but she is paralyzed very often when writing. She went on to explain that she has read quite a few books on the craft of writing. Because of the overload of information and sometimes contradictory information, it scares her to write. “Don’t use adverbs” or “Do not use semicolons” have been advised by great authors of the 20th century. There are other successful authors who would not agree completely with this advice. They have a different take on writing that might be contradictory to what you had read from another great author.
I understand her paralysis. I am a researcher on most things I do, look to buy, or for my hobbies. I research the hell out of things to try to absorb as much useful information as I can. Because I do this, I completely understand this woman’s paralytic dilemma. She is afraid to write because someone will probably find something wrong. Part of that is her own personal issue. I don’t find myself being overly concerned about other’s opinions if I were to use an adverb or semicolon or break one of these “rules”. But I have read so much on some subjects that it has proven to be more of a detriment than an asset. There can be so much contradictive information from multiple sources that you end up more confused than educated.
So many individuals out there have an opinion, just like I am writing in this blog here. These posts are nothing more than my opinions, coming from an amateur writer’s viewpoint. Now I do not push anything I say as gospel and remind any readers here that my words are merely my opinion and nothing more. There are many out there that push their advice as the final word, that the way they say is how things should be done. The reader must take it all with a grain of salt, take what works for them from whatever it is they are researching, and leave the rest behind. There is no one overall singular rule about writing. There are many, many rules. There are practically as many rules as there are writers. If something is truly written incorrectly, any good editor will catch it once you sell your book.
Follow the basic rules and do your best. If you have been taught professionally or have done your homework, your instincts will help guide you. If you are a reader of novels, you know how commercially successful authors write and how the final published piece reads. You never see their many, many rough early drafts, only the very polished and finished product. Remember that because we all compare ourselves to others that have achieved success. Imitate what they do (without copying!) and format your writing in one or from multiple styles that you have enjoyed. You know, as a reader, what works for you so put that back out there in your story because if it works for you, then it will work for others. It will never work for everyone and you cannot concern yourself with that. Read reviews of the greatest novels written and I guarantee you will find those amongst the crowd that gives a bad or unfavorable review. It happens to all writers, no matter how good they are. You cannot and will never please everyone so do not even try.
Write your story, just plow through without worries about an adverb, semicolon, or whatever other “rule” you have heard. It will stop you in your tracks if you let it get into your head. This is what the editing piece is for in this process. Just write, put everything down on paper and then worry about the details later. Even after you have done your absolute best and have edited the hell out of your work, once an editor gets a hold of it, they will let you know what needs to be changed. Let them tell you if a semicolon is not needed and if they do, simply remove it. Nothing to stress over and definitely not something to keep you from writing. The finished product the publishing house puts out for a book you have sold will be a polished, perfect edition.
Get the basics down, read the classic reference guides like Strunk and White’s, and just start writing. You need to enjoy the process, not stress about some stranger’s opinion on your grammar or punctuation.
Happy reading, happy writing!