Why I’m Tired of Advice
I’ve a suspicion that there’s no set of people in the world more anxious to give each other advice than writers. Oddly enough, there’s also no set of people more anxious to slavishly follow other people’s advice.
Now, before anyone readies the rotten tomatoes, let me add that I’m convinced most of it is given with the best of intentions and taken in good faith. That doesn’t prevent me, however, from saying that most if it is bullshit. And that’s because people are far too quick to lay down Incontrovertible Rules that Must Never Be Broken – never mind that they’re frequently contradicting each other.
Let’s have a mini-rant. Ready?
Writing Advice Atrocity #1: Adverbs are the root of all evil
This is one of those that keeps cropping up in the writing world, Because A Famous Writer Said It. Adverbs should NEVER be used. Let’s get something clear right at the outset: we all know perfectly well that sweeping statements are just begging to be contradicted, because how can a single dogmatic statement ever apply to all cases, under all circumstances?
I am perfectly ready to admit that a weak verb followed by an adverb is a poor way to express oneself. He/she ran quickly is a drab alternative to he/she sprinted or dashed or charged or any of a number of more exciting verbs. But at other times, an adverb is the perfect way to make a subtle alteration to the meaning, or interpretation, of a sentence – especially a line of dialogue. Excise them all? Atrocious thought.
It’s interesting to note that it’s always writers who criticise each other for using adverbs. I feel just the tiniest whisper of suspicion that readers, for the most part, Do Not Care.
Writing Advice Atrocity #2: “Said” is the only acceptable verb to use with dialogue.
Same issues as above. What’s really wrong with “replied” or “shouted” or “whispered” or even “spat” or “snorted”? Imagine if all books never used anything but said. Imagine of none of them used adverbs either. Shudder.
This is another one of those lines that originated with A Famous Writer. Let me state for the purposes of clarity that I don’t know, and rather doubt, whether the original source actually intended for these rules to be Laid Down As Law For All. One of the many offences committed by Advice is its tendency to be taken up by others and promptly (adverb) distorted and then exaggerated out of all proportion.
Writing Advice Atrocity #3: YOU MUST HIRE AN EDITOR.
I write that in capitals because I frequently (adverb) encounter it in capitals. It’s a trifle alarming.
What I do think is important in all areas of life – not just in writing – is to try to be honest with oneself about one’s own limits. Many of us can write very creditable novels but do a less sparkling job of editing and proofreading them. In which case, it is undoubtedly (ADVERB) advisable to hire an editor before thinking about publishing. But if you happen to be a good editor as well as a good novelist? What’s to stop you? If you’ve got a few good test readers to check for those blunders we all fall into, then great. Doing your own editing isn’t going to break the world. No… really, it isn’t.
Want to hear the most fatuous thing I’ve ever heard in connection with this rule? Here it is:
“It’s insulting to professional editors to think you could do their job as well as your own.”
Let it be henceforth set down as an Immutable Law that to be multi-skilled is a crime against one’s fellow man. Let no individual ever presume to be capable of more than one single thing in this life, or your presence on this Earth shall be strongly (ADVERB) objected to. And Rightly (ADVERB!) So.
Writing Advice Atrocity #4: YOU MUST HIRE A PROFESSIONAL COVER ARTIST.
As with the above, this one is mostly (…) directed at aspiring self-publishers and is, therefore, mostly (there’snohopeforme) written in screaming capitals.
I love professional cover artists, because I am Crap (yes, with a capital C) at art. I couldn’t produce a good cover if my life depended on… oh wait, that’s a cliche which is also Proscribed. Anyway, I can’t do covers, so I get someone else to do them. I rather doubt, though, that every other writer in the world is the same as me. If you can produce a good cover for yourself, then why the hell not? It amazes me that people seem to lose sleep over this stuff. And you know, people talk a lot about the Supreme Importance of professional cover art, and I’m not unswayed by this attitude because I myself am much impressed by great covers. But plenty of books with bad covers seem to sell fine, so who knows? Maybe there’s more in the world than my own point of view. Astonishing thought.
I could go on, but WordPress is currently counting my 786th word and I promised myself I would stop writing 1000+ word posts because someone somewhere said it’s better to be brief on a blog. Having already soundly broken the widely accepted (and widely repeated) 500 word maximum rule, I’ll finish the rest of my ranting in a quiet corner.
Don’t feel constrained, though. The rest of you still have 500 words of free ranting space to go, so make the most of it. Any other dogmatic writing rules to share with us? I’m all ears. (cliche)
PS This blog post is late, which also breaks the Blogging Law of the Fixed and Predictable Schedule. I can only apologise. I was busy… writing fiction. A lot of it. I know there’s no better way to kill my career than to vary my posting schedule (People have Said So), so I don’t know what possessed me.