No fucking about today.
I’m getting right to the heart of the writing advice I’ve tried and profoundly disagree with.
There’s a bunch more writing advice I take issue with as well but let’s start with these three.
#1 Write like you speak (um, you do not want me to write like I speak)
Shout out to my ADHDers out there who, when asked to explain something sequentially and sensibly, turn into the Tasmanian Devil.
I’m a smart person who often sounds not-smart when put on the spot.
My brain moves at approximately Warp 7, dealing with a bunch of shit at once. So when someone asks me a question that requires a sequence, my mouth tends to start at Step 3 while my brain is on Step 9 and then we zigzag back together like a spaniel following a smell.
And, like a spaniel following a smell, I am likely to wander off on a side quest and explain that too.
Which means I can be kinda hard to follow.
(Honestly, I annoy myself)
But give me a pen and paper, and I can create wonders.
Because for me, writing is thinking and I have time to organise all those spaniel thoughts before they escape forever.
What this advice really means is, “Write informally. Conversationally. Not like you have a big old stick up your butt.”
#2 Kill all your adjectives and adverbs and your darlings, while we’re at it
Oh this is a good one.
An extremely good one. <— see what I did there?
Writing stuffed full of adjectives and adverbs can become absolute unreadable flowery purple prose, for sure. I’ve read some shocking stuff involving “cave mouths like yawning hippopotami” (don’t ask).
But kill all the adjectives and adverbs, and what you’re left with is a technical manual.
And as for your darlings—there’s this idea that if you love something you wrote a lot, it somehow must be not good enough for the piece.
That might be true; it might not be.
If you love it, that might just mean it’s really good.
I stand by the advice to remove the word “very” in most circumstances and find a stronger word to use instead… and I also reserve the right to use the word “very” on the odd occasion I want to make a point. Because sometimes an adverb really is the best way to emphasise something.
And if that’s your style and it works and it’s not boring (because that’s the key thing, don’t be boring)—you do you.
As for adjectives—find unusual ones. Funny ones. Unexpected ones.
Related to this is the advice to never use a long word when a short one will do. Yes, if we’re going for the Plain English Campaign award (and definitely if we’re writing stuff that people NEED to be able to understand easily).
But we’re talking creative nonfiction here. Your book. If you’ve got a good word, and it fits, and you love it—use it.
I mean, what do you prefer? “Great big house” or “mansion”? Which is more evocative?
#3 Eat the frog first
Aha, and now to my favourite because it’s bandied around so much.
And for people with normo-brains, this probably works.
I, however, tried for years to do the worst, hardest, no-goodest job on my to do list, and then wondered what was wrong with me when instead I did nothing at all.
Or played Oblivion for 12 hours straight.
If you tell me to do the biggest hardest least fun job on my list first, that is a sure-fire way to make sure I do nothing.
So, if you too struggle with this and felt like shit for years because this “foolproof productivity and writing hack” hacked you off and made you feel like a failure—
Try this instead.
Do a fun thing.
Eat a cookie. Get nekkid. Dance. Read for 15 minutes. Play Lemmings on your phone.
Then, when your brain is good and dopamined up, do the no-good-no-fun thing quick before you notice!
Ride that dopamine high into lunchtime, and then celebrate your victory over Thing You Did Not Want To Do with another fun activity.
Yep: it’s the Fun Sandwich!
If I’m faced with boring job then reward, Brain goes, “I am an adult and I can have the reward now.” And that’s what I do all day.
But if Brain gets a quick fun-boost right away, I can often yank the reins and steer it into doing Not Fun Thing before it notices.
Also I would love to know: what’s some common writing advice that you disagree with, or that does not work for you?