Monday, October 30, 2017

Applicable Writing Advice?

Great writing tips abound. If you've been writing more than ten minutes, you've probably heard these two:  

"Write what you know."

"Show, don't tell."

While these contain great advice, there are certain words of wisdom I've found more applicable and helpful than others.

For example, years ago I came across this quote in The Elements of Style by Strunk and White:  

“Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

This was something I practiced immediately. It dovetailed perfectly with the courses I'd just completed at the Institute of Children's Literature, where they taught us the value of word economy. 

Here's another favorite from the same book:

“Do not overstate. When you overstate, the reader will be instantly on guard, and everything that has preceded your overstatement as well as everything that follows it will be suspect in his mind because he has lost confidence in your judgment or your poise.

Overstatement is one of the common faults. A single overstatement, wherever or however it occurs, diminishes the whole, and a single carefree superlative has the power to destroy, for the reader, the object of the writer’s enthusiasm.” 
This quote brings to mind the exclamation mark and its generous use everywhere. And it makes me wonder if we are a society of people who shout all the time. Or are we guilty of overstating? Or maybe both. :)
One veteran writer's opinion on this advised counting the number of exclamation marks in a piece. He recommended eliminating all but one, and to carefully consider even the lone remainder. Ask, he said, "Is such emphasis necessary?"  
Ever since reading those wisdom filled words, my use of such in formal writing is deliberate and sparse.

While some advice seems more applicable or timely than others, I'm grateful for the wealth of info at our fingertips. Always something to learn, always something to improve upon, right? 

What advice did you find most applicable when you began writing? What have you found most useful lately? 
Happy writing,

Photo credit: Pexels


  1. Yes, there is so much advice out there that it is hard to sort out. I really like yours about eliminating unneeded words.

  2. I basically live on the premise that all writing rules have varying levels of applicability, depending on the type of project I'm working on.

    Show don't tell doesn't work if I'm using a narrator.
    Don't overstate doesn't work if I have a drama queen main character.

    On other occasions, however, those exact same rules would apply to me.

  3. Overstating is like talking to a child and no adult enjoys that.

  4. I guess I'm guilty of excess exclamation points.
    I stick with Thou Shall Not Suck when writing.

  5. Hi Karen! (There I go with the exclamation point...) I love the idea of 'word economy'. I have also read Strunk and White, but I do also love those quotes you put in there.
    I do struggle with exclamations. I know they do add emphasis, and that usually works well with private correspondence, but not really in creative writing. It probably does manipulate the reader, and if I'm writing with emphasis, then that should take care of the situation without the !.
    Good ideas for reflection today. Thank you,

  6. I read not to use verbs of "Being" in writing. This came as a part of the thought of using only active verbs. An active verb is a strong verb.

    When I worked in a library, the children's director asked me to proof read her letters from time to time. One of them was loaded with the exclamation points. As I handed it back to her I told her not to use them. She told me she did it to generate enthusiasm. My response was that the use of them looked unprofessional. That was the last time I remember that she asked for my help.

  7. Natalie,
    I guess the key is sorting it out with care, and depending on what you write, you know? :)

    Those are good points. I write more non fiction than fiction, so this is where they find me. Glad you brought that up. :)

    Now that's a good point too. When I see overstating that way, or even all caps, I feel like this person is trying to coerce me to take it seriously. :)

    That's a good guide no matter what we write! :)

    Well, this is informal writing, so exclamation marks, I think anyway, have their place. :) Glad this resonated with you.

    Yes, I agree, active writing is often best. Maybe your librarian is really attached to the exclamation mark. :)

    Happy writing,

  8. "Write what you know" has always been a favorite guideline of mine. I do like the advice you give here about the overuse of the exclamation point. I will use it in my blog writing from time to time, but am always judicious in my fiction writing.

  9. Every rule has someone to argue with it. "Write what you know" always made sense to me, but a writer of children's books (I can't recall who, only that she was famous) said that she had made a career doing the opposite. Her stories took place all over the world in countries and cultures she knew nothing about. She researched, of course, but said that isn't the same as "knowing." What do you think? Agree or disagree?

    On "show don't tell," author Lee Child said we are storyTELLERS, not storySHOWERS, and that we shouldn't be afraid to tell. I guess he can afford to do/say that, but the rest of us would be skewered by acquisitions editors if that's what we did. lol

    The exclamation point is definitely overused. I'm guilty of this in my personal writing---letters to friends, for instance. I do my best to eliminate them in my novels, though. Most of the time they aren't necessary at all.

  10. Hello Karen. I have found it imperative to proof read and then go back and make necessary changes. There is almost always something that can be said better or altered in some way. I agree that it's good to write about something one loves or is familiar with. For example, I dislike sports so if I'm given a sports assignment, as a freelancer, for the weekly newspaper I write for, I definitely decline. I prefer to stick with subjects I enjoy writing about. Take care. Susan

  11. Hi, Karen. Thanks for sharing these tips. I took Institute of Children's Lit courses, too!

    Oops! There's an explanation point. Nuts! There's another and another. Crumbs. I'm going to be looking for overstatements and explanation points in my short stories when I write constantly now.

    I also over read my own writing and nit-pick. I don't suggest that. Make sure you lay the groundwork for the plot and move on. All best to you! [Blast, there's another one.]

  12. Show don't tell is my current favourite. But even that rule isn't an absolute. Sometimes telling has its place.

  13. Martha,
    I use it for the blog too, as well as in informal writing. But like everyone has pointed out, it's often contingent in what you're writing. Blessings to you too!

    This is so true. And there are exceptions to the rules too. Like they say, rules are meant to be broken. Maybe. Sometimes. Lol :)

    Proofreading is a must. You're right. :) I think you're right, best to write what you feel best about.

    Lol - you're too funny! I think exclamation marks work in this kind of writing. Unless maybe you use them in every sentence perhaps. I can over read as well. Getting better though. :)

    Yes, for fiction, I like that one too. Although you're right, it often just depends. :)

    Happy writing,

  14. Karen, I've given up on exclamation marks for the most part. Once in a while though, I get excited! and can't help it. Love this post.

  15. I use exclamation points a lot in blog comments. But my novels have maybe one or two.

  16. All of these are wonderful points. Personally, I can't remember any exact piece of advice I've remember through the years. It's generally a combo of a bunch of different ones.

  17. Susan,
    I use them some for informal writing, like here and for texts. I still find myself editing them out even then. Lol :)

    Me too, and for other informal stuff. Nonfiction and even fiction use, sparingly for sure. :)

    It's nice to meet you. Thanks for coming by! I'd agree,it really is a compilation of things we learn over the years, isn't it?

    Happy weekend,


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!