C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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On Writing Advice

A few years ago I published posts to this blog daily. It was the beginning of the publishing revolution and I had a lot to say. I post much less often now because it’s all in the archives, I’ve got books to write and mouths to feed. Recently, I was reminded of the Thomas Mann quote: 

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

A writer asked for advice on a single, short sentence. The votes poured in. People gave advice on what wording they preferred and their rationale for their preference. Some were a little…uh…strident. This post is not about their choices. It’s about our approach to writing and how we can get in our own way.

I’ve gotten in my own way during the editing process many times. I’m doing it right now! I’ve analyzed until I’m anal. I’ve reworded, polished, refined, worried, revisited and reworked. Conscientiousness is one thing. However, sometimes writers get too precious, to the point of procrastination. We make a virtue out of a fault. We can edit so hard that natural wording becomes unnatural. We can be so precise that we never get a book done, so exacting that the life and voice is deleted from our storytelling.

I wrote a couple of books about writing a few years ago. I unpublished one because I felt it had become too specific to its time. The other (Crack the Indie Author Code) I’ve left up on Amazon because it’s less about mechanics and mostly about inspiration. I drew on my experiences in traditional publishing and encouraged readers to take the leap to writing in the indie world. I provided guidelines and tips but no laws. Sometimes the ear is more important to the storyteller than the eye.

Professionalizing writing would suggest we avoid words like professionalization. Never verb a noun, not even in dialogue, not even for a joke. No sentence fragments. Some agents will tell you not to use prologues and epilogues, never ever! Pedants will stop reading if they — gadzooks!— encounter any use of passive voice. All adverbs must die! Rabid grammarians will go on endlessly about the horrors of the split infinitive. Some will demand the Oxford comma or pretend they don’t know what “scare quotes” mean. Don’t you dare break the fourth wall, either. Edit, revise and edit again until you hate your book because if you aren’t insecure, if you don’t loathe it, it can’t be any good. Don’t publish it because it’ll never be good enough, anyway. Know-it-alls will lecture the innocent on the use of commas until you’re too scared to commit a single line to paper.

Many of these scolds mean well. They may, in fact, love writing and editing. I’m not sure they love reading anymore, though. The danger is they’ll pound the love of books out of you, too.

Worse, they’re so goddamn sure they know what is best for everybody else. In their minds, creativity is fine but there is only one right way! Hang ee cummings, screw Walt Whitman and you can learn nothing from the pulp writers. It’s the Iowa Workshop or nothing! The War on Fun never ends.

Writers editing other writers can be extremely helpful or among the worst offenders. Writers need to read as the average reader. Civilians read for enjoyment. Writers often forget that trick. Meanwhile, many of the most successful writers working today are writing fast, telling simple, straightforward and linear stories. And they’re having fun. Sometimes they start sentences with conjunctions, too. Odd, huh?

I encourage writers to listen to editors, beta readers and their readers but don’t try to listen to them all. Don’t let your voice get edited away. Preserve the you in your writing. (On my first pass I wrote, “Preserve your unique voice in your work,” then, “Preserve your unique voice,” and “Preserve your unique writer’s voice.” That’s a symptom of today’s complaint. No one but another writer would pause to analyze that. A reader skips over it as quick as they can and gets the hell on with their day.)

Not all writing has to sound the same. I’d prefer it didn’t.

Be careful who you listen to. Be careful to whom you listen…um. No, don’t…uh….sigh.

God damn it. Goddammit!

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes fun suspenseful thrillers and scary epics about the end of the world. Find his work on his author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: publishing

One Response

  1. acflory says:

    LMAO! So yes and so no. 😀

    I have a couple of writer friends that I trust implicitly because they’ve proved themselves over the years. Yet even they do not see a word until I’m 110% happy with the story. Their comments bring me back down to 95% or so. Then I let it sit until I can read it like a reader again. Then I make sure every word does exactly what it’s meant to do. No more and no less. I read it out loud. I read it from a PDF. I read it on a Kindle. I can get kind of anal about things as small as the difference between ‘begin’ and ‘start’, but that’s me.

    As for all the ‘thou shalts’…we cannot write by committee. We cannot write by consensus. We cannot write by connecting up the dots between the ‘rules’. During the creation process there is only me and the story. And imho, that is exactly how it’s supposed to be, but don’t quote me on it. 😀

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