Writing Advice That Makes Me Weep

Sentences v2

Sentences v2 (Photo credit: eldeeem)

I recently ran across one of those “surefire writing tips” type articles that makes me want to weep or shriek. Maybe both. It amazes me that we keep circulating some of the same tired truisms round and round the internets. Some of my Non-Favorites:

Make your Sentences Short

It’s true that few people want to read paragraph long sentences. However, if you cut every sentence you have in two or try to keep everything to ten words or less or similar advice, you end up with a choppy article or story. Use long sentences when you need them. Use short sentences where they are appropriate. Use sentence length to enhance your story’s flow. Don’t follow some arbitrarily rule about sentence length.

Don’t Use Adverbs

Adverbs are a useful part of speech. I could agree with don’t over-use adverbs, but I’m not willing to dispense with an entire word form to cater to a select crowd’s writing fetish. Use adverbs when there’s no verb that says exactly what you need to say.

No Passive Voice

Although it’s not usually appropriate for fiction, sometimes passive voice is the appropriate choice.  One good example of when to use passive voice is for reports that require some distance between the narrator and the text. Mystery novels and crime fiction use this technique sometimes, proving it’s not always “wrong” even for fiction!

No Weasel Words

Of all the pat writing advice, I hate this one the least. This is advice to scour your writing for weak, unneeded, or repetitious words. I think it’s rarely well-applied. We all have our own personal “weasel” words. It’s up to you to read your writing with a critical eye and discover that you (like I do) use “very” too much. Figure out what words are your personal weasel words and crusade against them, not some arbitrary list. The weasel word lists can be helpful, but they’re only a place to start.

So that’s a few of my favorite non-favorite writing advice tips. I’m breaking the “keep it positive” rule and a couple others as well, I’m sure! I’d like to talk about the strange hatred of “ing”, but that deserves a post of its own.

Do you have any examples of writing advice that makes you weep or gnash your teeth?

9 thoughts on “Writing Advice That Makes Me Weep

  1. Isn’t it interesting how some people can create these new rules? I did enjoy how you pointed out you were not about to “dispense with an entire word form” to appease one persons thoughts. I have long lamented the loss of creative writing, spelling words properly (b4?) and using the power of words to hone your message. While I can see the use for clear, concise and to the point…where is the love for literacy?
    Very much enjoyed your post!

  2. Everyone’s writing style is different, and no one set of advice is applicable in all circumstances. That being said, there are definite guidelines that can help newer writers improve their craft. It’s a good idea to know the guidelines before you violate them.

  3. Thank you Theresa for posting your perspective about rules of writing. I’ve always had problems with those rules. I’ve decided to write freely when I found that those rules restricted the meanings I want to give my readers. I’m still learning though, and will always evolve when I read posts like yours!

  4. Writing guidelines bring to mind the old adage “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” Not necessarily true in every circumstance, of course, but sometimes. And even if the person handing out the guidelines is a professional writer passing on what they think is useful information, I believe that what works for one person does not necessarily work for another. And a “new” writer may take the “professional” writer’s words so much to heart that it will stifle their own writing. Just write. If it’s good, people will read it. If it’s not, they won’t. Thought-provoking post! (Personally, I love adverbs. And I probably have some weasel words I should look for!)

  5. I’d add in the new “avoid trigger words.” So much of speech is being eliminated out of fear of offending or not being politically correct. Unfortunately while yes, words may offend, they also ring truer than the careful work-arounds to avoid offending for “privilege” or an unspecified bigotry. I agree with Janne – just write. If people like it, great. If they don’t, that’s okay too. What’s important is that you write in your own voice, are true to yourself, and are happy to stand behind what you’ve written.

  6. I’m afraid I don’t follow any of these rules… self expression is hard enough without unnecessary and arbitrary fences limiting you. Just write, and those who have ears will listen. Anybody else won’t hear you, no matter how closely you stick to the writers guide. Cheers !!!

  7. Love this post, Resa. I’ll add an example where passive voice is useful, maybe even necessary in fiction. It is the best way of writing dialogue for a pompous character.

  8. I must say that I’ve been out of English class too long to have a handle on ‘passive voice’ and I don’t remember what an adverb does. I remember it was of those parts of speech I always had difficulty with. It reminds me of sitting in school and diagramming sentences. Ugh!
    To tell the truth, I get more offended by misspelling than I do grammar. With my own writing, I try to look it over to see if it makes sense. My biggest bugaboo is non-specific pronouns, both in my writing and – as my husband is always pointing out – in my speech. Sometimes I wish I spoke Spanish more fluently! It’s less complicated.
    All the best,

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