Some writing tips for authors make you want to rebel. No matter what the vocabulary gatekeepers say, there is sweetness in using words that you and a major part of the rest of the world grew up with—using them the natural way, aberrations and all.
I thought about this recently while editing a post about the physical and mental effects of writing on an author. I had written “…writing does things to your brain. Physical things, positive things.” I thought of all the advice I had come across telling me that the word things is to be avoided, and I set out to find a better word. I did not find a word that would substitute for things in my sentences with as good or better impact. The dictionary did not help, nor did the thesaurus.
I stuck to things, of course. Not a thing I could do about it.
I think I understand redundancy. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be caught making unintended mistakes when I write, something all authors have actual experience with.
As far as writing tips go, I do get the very obvious point with weak words like got and very.
Some writing advice tells you not to use the word since as a substitute for because. Appears since is usable only in the context of time. Thus, it is okay to say “I haven’t written a word since (after) I broke my wrist playing ice hockey”, but it is not okay to say “I haven’t written a word since (because) I broke my wrist playing ice hockey”. It is all rather confusing, and you will excuse me if I use since any which way I like, since I that is the way I have been doing it ever since I learned to write English.
I appreciate that all authors tend to overuse some words. I am guilty of sprinkling my work with unnecessary thats and thens. They are words that hang around the edges of this thing that I call my creative mind, then hurtle down like lemmings when I hit the keyboard.
When it comes to writing with flavor or writing with rectitude, you should opt for the former, even if it means you tread all over the writing tips. And that means you can start a sentence with a conjunction. You can end a sentence with a preposition, if that turns your muse on.
You can use a split infinitive. “After the writing course, I expect my daily word count to easily triple within weeks” is a better sentence any day in my book than “After the writing course, I expect, within weeks, to triple my daily word count with ease”. Ugh.
Want to use a flat adverb? Go right ahead if it feels and reads nice. Again, make sure you are using the right kind of discretion. “I drive slow in wet weather” serves just as well as “I drive slowly in wet weather”, but “I drive fastly in wet weather” is a high-speed mishap.
What is the big deal about splitting a verb phrase? “Publishing a book really does require expensive editors, proofreaders, agents and publishing houses” is about as effective as “Publishing a book does really require expensive editors, proofreaders, agents and publishing houses”.
But here, too, you want to exercise proper judgment. You are talking a whole new sentence with this version: “Publishing a book does require really expensive editors, proofreaders, agents and publishing houses”.
I was recently reading an article about the merits of using the terms Common Era (CE), Alternative Common Era (ACE) and Before Common Era (BCE) instead of the terms Anno Domino (AD) and Before Christ (BC). Far as I can make out, these terms were created because some folks decided that non-Christians might be uncomfortable with AD and BC. To the best of my knowledge, these folks did not actually ask non-Christians about it. I suppose there were just too many non-Christian folks to survey, what with all those heathen Chinese and Indians infesting the world.
I am a non-Christian who has been using AD and BC ever since I first learned my ADBCs. Anno domino and before Christ have never had any religious symbolism for me. Ahem: I was schooled in a Jesuit institution. English curriculum, American Fathers. English Language was one of my subjects. And so was Scripture (Bible Knowledge).
I don’t want anything to taint the strong belief I have that the Jesuit education system is the best in the world. I think I will stick to AD and BC.
Now why would you want to use an eight-syllable term like horizontally challenged or a nine-syllable term like gravitationally challenged in place of a single-syllable word like fat or a two-syllable word like obese? The mental image I get from “horizontally challenged” is of a fat sumo wrestler being invited to a bout by an obese sumo wrestler stretched out on the floor.
Seems like the word bureaucrat is now out of favor. The word has apparently developed a kind of negative connotation. (Now why doesn’t that surprise me?) I haven’t seen any suggestions for alternate terms, though. One possibility is civil servant, of course, but if I were a bureaucrat and someone called me a civil servant, I am not sure my reaction would be very civil.
You get the idea, I hope. Use discretion in following do and don’t advice on writing. Not all of it will be applicable to your specific situation all of the time. Any day, your gut instincts are better than the grammar police’s rules.
Got any writing tips? Any dos or don’ts about dos and don’ts you would like us to know? Please comment.