But I thought you just said….?

Like most things in life, the more you write, the better you get. You discover your personal writing style, your voice. As you progress you hit some tricky issues. Should you always consign adverbs to the recycle bin or can you use them sparingly? What about clichés? You want to improve, so you check it out, see what the current thinking is. Then you find there’s actually a bigger problem. As if writing wasn’t difficult enough for the novice, the huge amount of conflicting information available doesn’t always make things any easier. Like the bible, writing advice reveals lots of contradictions. Take these examples:

• Use plain, simple, short words; you don’t need a thesaurus – the first word you think of will probably do the job.
• Expand your readers’ vocabulary by using lesser-known words. The greater your vocabulary the more effective your writing will be.

Or, what about:
• Read a lot, but don’t read in the genre you’re writing.
• The more you read in your chosen genre the more you’ll realise how things should be done. Or shouldn’t.

Another apparent contradiction:
• Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’.
• Don’t use strong verbs like grumbled, gasped, to carry dialogue.

And another:
• Cut out the metaphors and similes.
• Metaphors hold the most truth in the least space.

What about:
• Write about what you know.
• Research new ground and bring new perspectives to an old subject.

• Describe your characters.
• Don’t give any details – let your readers visualise physical features and attributes.

And finally:
• Don’t plan the ending, it has to be earned. Plunge right in – the journey will reveal the outcome.
• Have a plan before you start. Know where you’re going and where you want to end up – don’t try to write a structure as you go along or you’ll give yourself the opportunity to sabotage yourself.

My view on this particular nugget is to get the first draft finished before doing any editing – I’ve wasted an awful lot of time writing and rewriting early sections of a novel that don’t fit with the ultimate shape of the whole and have eventually been discarded.

The result of trying to take all this advice on board is a kind of literary indigestion. As there’s a multitude of tips for every problem you might encounter, the best advice is to find your own path. See what works for you. It’s all trial and error. Give yourself permission to write badly occasionally – it can always be rectified later. And at least you’ll have written something.


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