There’s writing rules, and then there’s Chuck Wendig

In my first big edit of my current WIP, I was keeping an eye out for simple spelling and grammar mistakes and glaring plot holes. Now that I am doing another more thorough edit of my novel, all I had to do was look up ‘Words to avoid while writing’, and I uncovered a whole new, confusing web of knowledge that makes my brain ache.

I’ve identified flabby words to chop, clichés to seek and destroy and words that can rob writing of its power. I have a humongous list of ‘words to eliminate’ that are often the culprits of jagged, uneven prose that can make a reader’s eye quiver uncomfortably.

Now all I want to do is buy an editing package so I can get someone else to do all the hard work for me.  If only I wasn’t so poor and it didn’t cost around AUD$1,500 to get my 70,000 word novel done (though I do think it’s a reasonable amount considering all the pain those poor editors must go through.)

Here’s the list of writing rules I’m working on at the moment that promise to improve the clarity of my words until they are about as crisp as a burnt marshmallow:

  • Remove any ‘that’ words wherever possible. If it sounds fine without it, remove it.
  • Eliminate speaking words. Use only said (after speech), asked (sparingly). If you see any ‘she chimed in’ or ‘she laughed’ or ‘he croaked’, DELETE
  • Keep going through the 100 adverb list (don’t forget hardly & barely). Remove and write the buggers out! Concentrate on being “in scene, active, with all the senses”. You can keep these words for casual dialogue
  • Focus on the use of words, ‘got, was, is, are, am’ – Can I remove these and find better actions words to describe my scene?
  • When using ctr+f to find & replace words, don’t simply chop and move on, investigate the sentence and see if you can move it around, change and improve
  • ‘As’ & ‘look’ are two words you use sometimes, often, always. Seriously, find some new ones already. Keep a notebook of words you overuse, and come up with fresh, funky alternatives instead.
  • Find alternatives for the following common/bland adjectives: interesting, lovely, exciting & beautiful

I’ve accepted that the process of improving writing style is probably a deep and vicious rabbit hole of no (conceivable) end, and you may have to put in a bit of effort to swim through the muck and find the sharp, BOLD, clean prose you’ve been seeking. 10,000 hours of consistent effort apparently.

And if you want to have any chance of getting published, well you’ll have to get rid of those pesky adverbs ASAP and scrape up all that common gunk glittering your manuscript.

Hell yes I agree with that, but… I also don’t. Is it really necessary to take an axe to every adverb and lazy adjective?

Clearly no (pick up any random book and you’ll find adverbs a plenty), but the pressure to obey all those writing rules can be a tough one to weather. And sometimes it makes me not want to write at all.

If writing rules are stifling your creativity and removing the joy out of writing, then stop obsessing about making sure every line is perfect. Stop it right now.

Who cares if someone reads your work and tells you ‘it’s not good enough’ or ‘it needs a lot of work.’ Yeah it might be shit now, but maybe in the future you’ll write less shitly. Too many times I’ve seen writers here on wordpress who have given up on writing for some reason or another (rejection, bad feedback, no one cares etc…) But the only way to get better is to keep going even when anyone and everyone tells you that your work sucks.

chuckwendig rejection.jpg

Seriously, if you feel like your writing is lacking in that lyrical dreaminess or punchy, fervent quality you’ve always desired, just keep writing, you’ll get there one day. And you know what? Even if you don’t, never forget Chuck Wendig’s golden words:

“fuck success, fuck selling this book, fuck being someone else, fuck writing rules, fuck it, fuck it all.”

Yes getting published is the ultimate goal of most writers. But remember, you’re writing because you love writing not because you want to find a publisher and become rich and famous (although I do adore that idea).

What you need to repeat to yourself daily is this:

“And what I want is to write the book that lives inside my arteries and capillaries, the book that flows through me sure as blood.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Chuck Wendig writes such clear imagery. I can almost see the words dripping out of my fingertips onto the page, little red droplets leaking out into a fantastic web of adverbs and adjectives.

Milly out.


37 thoughts

  1. Millie, I enjoyed reading this piece. You certainly seem to be adjusting to the “Writer’s Rush” better than most do. Come on over to ( The Contemplative Thinker and feel free to compliment and/or tear up anything I have written. Thank you very much for following me! Btw, I did become a transplant Aussie, even an NSWman, whilst living in Paddington a suburb of Sydney as well as in Patonga Beach, up the central coast.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s so helpful to know there is someone else going through the same thing. But I do also feel that you could go on obsessing over every single line for the rest of your life, sometimes you need to know when to stop and just go with it.

    Another interesting thought I had recently is that changes to your initial draft won’t always change it for the better, so it’s OK to leave something if you really like it.

    Good luck with the manuscript!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I try to notice what other writers do but I don’t notice when I’m not looking for it if that makes sense. I personally don’t think it really matters, but then again the more experienced writers probably know best.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. You can use other words, but you have to keep in mind that readers like consistency.
      The best words to substitute would be action words like: paused, dismissed .etc

      whispered, shouted are words that tell more than show.
      It’s something most of us don’t think about until we read a lot of articles about writing technique.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I never thought about it that way, thank you. I know it’s better to show rather than tell so that’s helpful advice. Do you have any articles that you think in particular are good for writing technique?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I wasn’t very good at learning grammar rules when I was in school, and so, like my many skills as an artist, I’m self taught.

    Does this sound blasphemous? I’m sure it does!

    For me, art and writing needs to be about how it makes me feel when I’m creating and how I think my reader/viewer will feel.

    Do my words convey my thoughts in the tone I’m thinking them in my head, and can we feel what I’m saying? Or is the language a barrier to feeling?

    So, as in art, rules are there to be adhered to or to be bent, depending on the mood which is being conveyed.

    I edit my own work… I know! Another blasphemous thing to do!

    I will approach it in stages, allowing sections to “cool” so I can look at it with fresh senses. Above all, I seek a logical flow, words which truly convey what I’m saying, and to strike a balance between sounding too lofty and unlike myself, vs. being too casual.

    I avoid phrases and sentence construction which is too elevated or unlike how I would normally speak.

    I’ve embraced my own speaking and writing voice. That’s me. It won’t be for everyone and I’m feeling fine with that, after all, I can’t be someone I’m not in order to try to please people!

    Can I improve? Absolutely! I feel as each year passes I improve and learn!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Now I feel like I should go back and edit all of my blog posts…Yeah, I probably should. Luckily it is almost midnight. It shouldn’t be too hard to procrastinate that.
    Thanks for the useful advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not sold on the whole limit your speech markers argument. I’ve heard both sides, leave it to “he said, she said” or use words that convey action for efficiency’s sake. I think if you want you’re reader to just focus on the dialogue, then the former is fine. But when you want to convey action in conjunction with dialogue, varied speech markers are useful. It’s the difference between: “Are you sure?” he said, throwing a hand to his open mouth in surprise -versus- “Are you sure?” he gasped. Like anything, it seems contextual to me. But I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Eliminate speaking words. Use only said (after speech), asked (sparingly). If you see any ‘she chimed in’ or ‘she laughed’ or ‘he croaked’, DELETE”

    I found this interesting because one of my friends who did edit for a small publishing firm used to tell me how she hated when people excessively used “said” in phrases like “he said, in a whisper” or “she said in response.” She’d recommend “he whispered” or “she responded/replied” etc. What are your thoughts on that?

    I write in academia, for the most part so this particular point isn’t applicable to me now. But back when I wrote fiction (primarily fan fiction, a decade ago) I know I tried to vary the “speech” verbs I used because “said” “said” “said” drove ME crazy.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Just let it go Millie. Now you struck home with me. I obsess over a line – get it near perfect. Then I go and spoil my effort by reading a book from a best seller author and think what dribble. But who am I kidding!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Awesome post, Millie. Chuck Wendig is the no-nonsense voice that all writers need, especially when there’s so much bullshit out there (hello list posts comprised of ideas stolen from other posts, and advice from ‘experts’ who have never written a word). If you haven’t read his book ‘The Kick-Ass Writer’, I highly recommend it. Best of luck to you in your writing 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Oh Millie, can we be best friends?! Seriously! Toss the rule book out! Shred it for use in the hamster cage! Light it on fire and toast up those marshmallows! For too many years I’ve allowed criticism (mainly the brutally personal type) keep me from pursuing my passion of writing. Why?! Because “the rules” had dictated that such intrinsic pleasures shouldn’t be afforded someone of my uneducated stature. To hell with the rules, and burn on spirit passion!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Totally agree with writing how you want to write. For me, I like using words like “he muttered” or “she whispered”. I’ve heard other people say to only use “he/she said”, but that’s not for me. It’s all about finding the perfect spots. Great post! 😉

    Liked by 5 people

  11. I’ve stopped reading a lot of the “how to” things written by experts. You’re right – they sap the joy out of writing. I was loving it, and then I got confused by all the rules and suggestions and wanted to give up. I’ve written a rough draft of a five book series (each book
    @ 100,000 words each). Are they any good? Parts of them are brilliant, the rest may suck, but I’ve loved every second of writing them!

    Liked by 5 people

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