Advice: The Road Not Taken

Copyright 2013 David Belt

I belong to a number of writing groups. I have participated in a number of writing workshops and panels, and the best advice I can give anyone about writing is… don’t take anyone’s advice.

It’s not that other writers don’t have really good ideas. It is that every writer has their own ideas.

As I draw nearer to my English degree, I realize that there are far fewer rules in the English language than I thought, a few years ago. The English language, however, is repute with options. As these options are so varied and irregularly used, many writers will jump on to the nearest soap box and brazenly declare their own personal rule of thumb.

Before you accept anyone’s personal rule of thumb as law, do a little fact checking of your own. Grammar rules are easy to look up on the internet. My personal “go to” site for grammar rules is grammarbook.com, but most any will do.

The other, and truly more important, reason for taking advice with a grain of salt, vice swallowing the tuna whole, is that it is your  writing. You are expressing your self through your  words. The moment you start using someone else’s words, you stop expressing yourself and start expressing someone else.

Now here is the real kicker to that last idea:

Until you start creating your own language and your own dialect, you’re going to be using someone else’s words, but the manner in which you do so, must reflect you, not someone else. Put yourself into your writing and let that medium of art portray your ideas to the world.

I may read a book written in a style I find grammatically distasteful… and there is nothing wrong with that. It is simply the manner in with that artist chose to express his/herself at that time, and I will be enriched, just the same, for the experience.

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5 thoughts on “Advice: The Road Not Taken

  1. I think now that I’m older I’m more accepting of different styles and experimentation by authors. Before I just didn’t understand. If a writer believes in their story, it’ll show no matter how it’s written.

  2. As an avid reader, a writer can toss out many grammar rules and thumb their nose at the rest as long as they give me an intriguing plot, fascinating characters, and consistency within the piece. Do those things, and I won’t blink an eye at lack of ‘proper grammar’.

  3. Non-standard grammar/punctuation/etc. doesn’t bother me. Only trouble may be with initial acceptance in certain circles. Depending on the readership you are writing for. In more formal circles, non-standard writing is accepted more from those who first establish themselves clearly as writers who know the rules.

    But whatever you do, best of luck to you. Every thing I’ve seen from you has certainly been very well written.

    • Good point, Paula. I like what David is saying here, use your own voice, tell your story in your own way. Without that uniqueness, I get bored really quickly.

      However, any truly bizarre breaks from standard English need to come from an author I’ve read before and trust.

      I think of English grammar like an atom cloud: the hard and fast rules tight at the core, and variations spin off from there, still art of the whole though.

      If you stray too far (and this is pretty far) are you communicating?

      The only time it’s really been an issue for me is with Michelle West’s House of Somethingorother. She used so many fragments that I couldn’t figure out which subject they were supposed to apply to.

  4. One of the voice or writing style traits that Salman Rushdie uses is to run words together with no spaces or no commas:

    ” ‘Whatdoyoumeanhowcanyousaythat,’ they chorused, the boy from Gir forest whose face was absolutely blank and featureless (except for eyes noseholes spaceformouth) and could take on any features he chose…”

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