In my first big edit of my current WIP, I was keeping an eye out for simple spelling and grammar mistakes and glaring plot holes. Now that I am doing another more thorough edit of my novel, all I had to do was look up ‘Words to avoid while writing’, and I uncovered a whole new, confusing web of knowledge that makes my brain ache.
I’ve identified flabby words to chop, clichés to seek and destroy and words that can rob writing of its power. I have a humongous list of ‘words to eliminate’ that are often the culprits of jagged, uneven prose that can make a reader’s eye quiver uncomfortably.
Now all I want to do is buy an editing package so I can get someone else to do all the hard work for me. If only I wasn’t so poor and it didn’t cost around AUD$1,500 to get my 70,000 word novel done (though I do think it’s a reasonable amount considering all the pain those poor editors must go through.)
Here’s the list of writing rules I’m working on at the moment that promise to improve the clarity of my words until they are about as crisp as a burnt marshmallow:
- Remove any ‘that’ words wherever possible. If it sounds fine without it, remove it.
- Eliminate speaking words. Use only said (after speech), asked (sparingly). If you see any ‘she chimed in’ or ‘she laughed’ or ‘he croaked’, DELETE
- Keep going through the 100 adverb list (don’t forget hardly & barely). Remove and write the buggers out! Concentrate on being “in scene, active, with all the senses”. You can keep these words for casual dialogue
- Focus on the use of words, ‘got, was, is, are, am’ – Can I remove these and find better actions words to describe my scene?
- When using ctr+f to find & replace words, don’t simply chop and move on, investigate the sentence and see if you can move it around, change and improve
- ‘As’ & ‘look’ are two words you use sometimes, often, always. Seriously, find some new ones already. Keep a notebook of words you overuse, and come up with fresh, funky alternatives instead.
- Find alternatives for the following common/bland adjectives: interesting, lovely, exciting & beautiful
I’ve accepted that the process of improving writing style is probably a deep and vicious rabbit hole of no (conceivable) end, and you may have to put in a bit of effort to swim through the muck and find the sharp, BOLD, clean prose you’ve been seeking. 10,000 hours of consistent effort apparently.
And if you want to have any chance of getting published, well you’ll have to get rid of those pesky adverbs ASAP and scrape up all that common gunk glittering your manuscript.
Hell yes I agree with that, but… I also don’t. Is it really necessary to take an axe to every adverb and lazy adjective?
Clearly no (pick up any random book and you’ll find adverbs a plenty), but the pressure to obey all those writing rules can be a tough one to weather. And sometimes it makes me not want to write at all.
If writing rules are stifling your creativity and removing the joy out of writing, then stop obsessing about making sure every line is perfect. Stop it right now.
Who cares if someone reads your work and tells you ‘it’s not good enough’ or ‘it needs a lot of work.’ Yeah it might be shit now, but maybe in the future you’ll write less shitly. Too many times I’ve seen writers here on wordpress who have given up on writing for some reason or another (rejection, bad feedback, no one cares etc…) But the only way to get better is to keep going even when anyone and everyone tells you that your work sucks.
Seriously, if you feel like your writing is lacking in that lyrical dreaminess or punchy, fervent quality you’ve always desired, just keep writing, you’ll get there one day. And you know what? Even if you don’t, never forget Chuck Wendig’s golden words:
“fuck success, fuck selling this book, fuck being someone else, fuck writing rules, fuck it, fuck it all.”
Yes getting published is the ultimate goal of most writers. But remember, you’re writing because you love writing not because you want to find a publisher and become rich and famous (although I do adore that idea).
What you need to repeat to yourself daily is this:
“And what I want is to write the book that lives inside my arteries and capillaries, the book that flows through me sure as blood.”
Isn’t that beautiful?
Chuck Wendig writes such clear imagery. I can almost see the words dripping out of my fingertips onto the page, little red droplets leaking out into a fantastic web of adverbs and adjectives.
Extra reading stuff: