Nothing about writing is absolute. General rules of thumb abound. Discipline is required. It’s keeping score at a baseball game. The only way to do it is what works for you. Some etch a path around the diamond. Some rely on little dots and lines. Some worry about the balls and strikes. Some don’t.
Few are the writers who cannot do with some paring down. Know what was good training? Being a reporter and writing for space. Boss says four hundred words. What? I’ve ready written five hundred. Fifteen minutes to deadline. Gotta pare it down.
From time to time, someone asks me to read something he (or she) wrote and tell him what I think. What he most often wants me to do is tell him how great it is. Most times he writes what everyone else is already writing. The trick is to provide a wrinkle that no one else has.
“Minimize” is a better word than “eliminate.” Don’t eliminate adverbs; minimize them. Don’t eliminate exclamation points; minimize them. Remember that it’s “I” before “e,” except after “c,” but don’t forget the exceptions for words like “neighbor” and “weigh.”
The problem with hard and fast rules is that that they slow the development of style. As in NASCAR, sometime you have to slow down to go fast.
Use the right word, not the big one. The older you get, the easier it will be. With experience comes a knack for realizing that a word or phrase you’ve used without review is not only stupid but always has been. I thought of one yesterday. Lots of folks select the word they think will make them look intelligent, failing to notice the reverse is what happens. Writing requires water but not enough to drown. Make your point. Don’t drown it with qualifiers. A story is phenomenal or it isn’t. Don’t look for a story that is somewhat, arguably, or a bit phenomenal. It doesn’t exist.
The day will come when you write the way you do because it’s the only way you can. It will mark the evolution of a career’s worth of trial and error, consideration, honesty, and courage. Style won’t evolve without those virtues. Writing is lonely, overlooked, and underestimated. When you find your style, you won’t want to abandon it or it to abandon you. Then you’ll start becoming slowly obsolete, but you won’t give a damn.
Estimations over and under are overrated, words I’d never write if I was afraid to end this column with something that makes no sense.
I’m a writer. It works for me.
I hope this site provides you with some insight, every now and then, when it’s trying to do something else. If you’d like to read my thoughts on sports and the like, visit www.montedutton.com from time to time. If you’d like to read my novels, as well as my non-fiction books from a while back, you can find most all of them here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144.