Saturday, October 11, 2008

On Good Advice

Darling Nathan has asked his readers for the worst writing advice they've gotten. My favorite: "Remove all your commas. Editors don't like commas and they pull the reader out of the story."

Haha! Um, also the letter "b". Editors hate the shape of the letter b, and it distracts readers from any word it appears in.

Oh, this is so true, though. It seems like every writer's conference I attend I get asked to confirm or deny at least one piece of ridiculous advice.

Here are your antidotes:

For every piece of advice regarding punctuation, substitute: Read a good book about punctuation. Know what it is for. Know what the rules are. Then ignore them if you like.

For every piece of advice regarding how to write, substitute: Read a lot. Write a lot. Read a lot. Write a lot.

For every piece of advice regarding what to write about, substitute: Write about something you would want to read about.

For every piece of advice regarding who to submit to and how, substitute: There are no one-size-fits-alls. Do your own research. You'll learn a hell of a lot along the way.

For every piece of advice regarding ignoring all the rules, substitute: The rules are there for a reason. Understand the reason before you decide to ignore them. Then feel free.


Chris Eldin said...

The comma post was the one that caught my attention.

I'm also happy I have firsties here. A toast, to you. And to commas,

Crystal-Rain Love said...

Great advice. (-:

Yat-Yee said...

Bravo! Sometimes I wonder if it's our yearn for easy answers that gets us ridiculous, gimmicky answers. "Delete all commas" is so much easier to implement than "Educate yourself, write a lot, read a lot."

Kimbra Kasch said...

I'd send you a chocolate bar but I don't know your address. "Thanks" will have to do.

Kopy Pig said...

Here're my rules: every time someone mentions rules concerning language they do not know what they are talking about


when someone mentions grammar, just remember they are talking about early-learning language hints

and of course...

never trust anyone who uses italics


Anonymous said...

Your "counter advice" is spot on.

Someone once told me to find a writer whose style I enjoy and copy him/her. At first, that seemed like a terrible suggestion--Shouldn't I be creating original works? But now that I think of it, this tidbit is quite insightful and wise, in some regards. Besides, "there is nothing new under the sun."

Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

The best (i.e. most appalling) piece of advice I've heard gets given is, "take out any phrase which includes 'was'".

I THINK what these god-awful teachers are getting at is the avoiding the passive mood. But ye gods...!

I think baby writers love rules because they're something to cling on to in the heaving ocean of possibilities into which they've been cast [observe deliberate passive form of verb] now they've become conscious of how words work. And I think feeble writing teachers yield to the temptation to offer rules, because then all parties leave the class feeling something's been learnt [passive again...]. And, of course, there's a nice, tidy tick-box thing you can grade against, instead of having to form your own opinion about whether something's Good or Bad.

The commas defeat me, but some of the other 'rules' (e.e. 'show-don't-tell') are worth understanding as over-simplifications of complex but important issues. Not a rule, of course, but a useful crystallisation, once you understand that it's not a law, but a concept.

The Librarian and The Reading Specialist said...

I love this advice! Remove all commas! What!? Has anyone ever read the children's picture book, "When Punctuation Takes a Vacation," by author I can't remember? It is hilarious and really drives home the ridiculousness of the "remove all commas advice." I am a grammar/writing teacher and I have instructed my students to believe punctuation marks are the traffic signals of written works; they tell the reader when to start, stop, or slow down. They are important!

Deirdre Mundy said...

On the, other, hand, if you're confronted, with an over, comma'd piece, sometimes it can help, if you tell the poor, soul, to remove all, of the, commas. Because, after the purge, one can, replace the neccessary, punctuation, without the pain, of having to read, all of, the unneccessary.

Ouch. It pained me to write that. I can't imagine how much it will hurt to read it! =)

Nessa said...

I actually had a teacher tell the comma thing. I knew she was batty. I like the read a lot, write a lot advice much better.

masterymistery said...

mine is to write what you know about, what inspires you, what you have experienced directly...

congratulations on blogs of note

masterymistery at cosmic rapture

Anonymous said...

The funniest piece of advice I ever heard someone try to confirm was at an SCBWI meeting about how books are judged for the ALA awards. One member asked, "Is it true that there's a rule that all Newbery books have to have a character who dies?"

Yes, throw in a dead character just to make your book Newbery-worthy.

John Barnes said...

The Zeroth Rule, which I use for weeding out book-doctoring clients whose work I don't want to see at all (and who can be weeded out sight unseen) is:

if you never read, or don't like to read, or worse still you have never read much and never liked any reading, then for the love of whatever your puny soul can conceive of Divinity, DO NOT WRITE.