There are a lot of people out there telling you how you should and shouldn’t write. Truth is, they don’t care how well you write, they’re just interested in selling you a book or getting hired as a writing coach. Well, I don’t have a book to sell, and I wouldn’t coach anyone fool enough to hire me, so I can tell you the truth. (Note to self: Get a book to sell and stop insulting potential clients.)
With that in mind, I’ll dispel the 4 most destructive writing rules for you and give you one you can always count on.
Avoid passive voice.
Passive voice is a tool. You wouldn’t tell a mechanic to avoid using a 7/8” socket or a taxi driver to avoid using the windshield wipers, would you? Every sentence form has a place, and passive forms are no exception. When the object is more interesting than the subject, or the subject is flat out unknown, it’s time to break out the “to be” verbs and get sedentary.
Brevity is the soul of wit, right? Well, unless you’re Douglas Adams. (Pro tip: You’re not.) You could call the late author of the inappropriately named Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy a lot of things, but “concise” would be pretty far down the list, just below “Fishman” and “alive.” He’s also sold a lot more books that you’re likely to. Same goes for Mark Twain, Dave Barry, and Neil Gaiman. Some people’s style is concise, others get good when the going gets long.
Omit needless words.
(I must point out that this is not the same as the preceding item, which would be sort of a rip-off. ) A lot of people really hate Strunk & White. I’m not one of them, but I can see why. This “rule” has inspired some of the worst examples of writing advice I’ve ever seen. You wouldn’t believe the atrocities committed against literature in Strunk’s name. The problem lies in the word “needless.” Does it mean grammatically needless? Semantically? Need varies from writer to writer, sentence to sentence. Taking a string of words out of context and condemning some as unnecessary is just barbaric, especially when you’re just parroting advice someone else gave. Don’t sweat over every adjective for fear of zombie-Strunk’s scornful judgment. Just write.
Write what you know.
Let’s face it, most people are. I certainly am. So you don’t know enough to write interesting material. That’s why Drizzled and I came up with an exciting writing technique: research. With this clever trick, you can find out new things and write about those! Better advice would be “Know what you write.” Chances are, most of your readers are already pretty familiar with eating Cheetos and watching Friends reruns in your underpants. Why not introduce them to something new?
And the final golden rule…
Think for yourself.
While all of the above is great advice, they are terrible rules. Sure, they may work 90% of the time. Sure, they may get you out of most situations. But as you grow as a writer and hone your craft, your style will develop until you no longer need a checklist beside your manuscript. The thoughtful and attentive writer will have internalized the above rules and thousands more but will realize when best to apply them and when to defy them.