Friday, October 14, 2011

Only Rule: Pay Attention

An awful lot of writing rules aren't really rules at all.

For instance, very often one of the first "style" rules we learned about writing was to not repeat words. That was the very first writing advice I ever got. My dad was reading over a book report, and he suggested that I not use the word "she" quite so much in a particular paragraph.

It's really the same rule as the one where people go through and try to eliminate the word "said" entirely.

But here's the thing: those ain't rules. They don't automatically improve your writing. As a matter of fact, often the very best writing uses repetitions and rhythm to create additional meaning.

So if they're not rules, what are they? What is just about every "rule" in writing?

They're tools for seeing. For noticing what you're actually doing. They act like a grid, or magnifying glass or ruler. They point things out to you, but they aren't meant to rule what you do. Blindly cutting or changing words is no better than blindly putting them in.

The real rule is Pay Attention.

Be, as Miss Marple is sometimes described, a noticing type of person. Notice what you're doing and be deliberate about your choices.

See you in the funny papers.


Lee McAulay said...

Okay - when did you change your blog header image? I only just noticed... :P

The Daring Novelist said...

About a month ago. I had some ideas for the framing device and then came across that illustration in an old magazine and knew I had to use it.

I wrote about it in September ("Thinking about a new blog design" and then in my series about "The Plan.")

It's still a rough draft though.