Top Ten Bits of Writing Advice That you should Ignore
Lest anyone be offended by my thoughts below, understand that the following are my opinions as they apply to me and my writing. I believe all writers should form their own opinions on writing advice. There is not “one” way to write. Advise yourself. But be sure you consider the advice of others before dismissing—or accepting—it.
In no particular order:
1. Write what you know.
I only know so much. If I followed this axiom, I might eke out one or two books in my lifetime. I write what I’d like to know. That means research. Only if the subject is interesting enough to me, will it stand any chance of being interesting to someone else.
2. Never use an exclamation point.
When one of my characters is shouting, I use an exclamation point. If the character is merely annoyed/excited/insistent, I do not. By the same token, if one of my characters is asking a question, I use a question mark.
3. Avoid adverbs.
Adverbs serve to “modify” the action described by verbs. Sometimes I want to soften, strengthen, or otherwise modify a verb. That’s when I am thankful that someone invented adverbs. Yes, I am partial to strong verbs, but there’s not a strong verb for everything I want to describe in my books.
(And in case you think I’m adverb-happy, there’s only one adverb in the previous paragraph: “otherwise.”)
4. Writing is about story and ideas. Someone else can worry about spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
I care for the tools of my trade. And I count words, spelling, grammar, and punctuation among my most important tools. I strive to choose the right one in every situation. For the same reason, I wouldn’t tee off with a sand wedge on a par five hole. And I wouldn’t use apostrophe -s- to indicate the plural. Or “discrete” when I mean “discreet.” Why should my editor have to clean up my sloppy work?
6. Don’t read your reviews
Of course I read my reviews. And I believe I can learn something from them. Yes, I have to consider the source and the validity of the critique, but sometimes I don’t see what others see in my work. I try to keep an open mind while maintaining faith in my work. And the positive reviews feel great.
7. Write short chapters
I believe a chapter should be long enough to reach the end. That may be two pages or thirty. Depends.
8. Don’t write prologues
I’m no fan of the prologue. I like to start at the beginning of the story. But sometimes a prologue is just what’s needed.
9. Start in the middle of the action
I like to get out of the blocks quickly, but not at the expense of confusing the reader. I start at the beginning, which may or may not be the middle of the action. It might even be the prologue…
10. Obey the rules.
Only once I have mastered the rules may I break them. Otherwise I’m just cutting corners.
James W. Ziskin is the Anthony, Barry, and Lefty-nominated author of the Ellie Stone Mysteries (Seventh Street Books). His latest is Heart of Stone (June 7, 2016).