Bass-Ackward Writing Advice

Today’s blog entry is for you writers who’ve written the rough draft of a short story, novel, or a piece of creative nonfiction.   Now, you might be wondering — and rightfully so — why I’m not giving advice about writing that first draft.  That’s because writing a first draft is a bitch.  I’ll try to tackle that immense subject in a future series of blog entries.

But for now, here are some things you really need to pay attention to as you start to edit that rough draft (you know, the one I haven’t told you how to write yet).

  • Read your rough draft all the way through before you start making edits.
  • Print out the draft.  You know, on paper.  You may think you can edit just fine from a computer screen.  Well, you can’t.
  • Get a red ink pen to make corrections.
  • If you see an adverb, get rid of it.  Adverbs rarely have any impact :-)
  • Read every sentence.  Read it out loud.  Read it to a friend if possible.  Check the spelling and check the grammar.  You have to analyze every sentence in your draft.  You may be thinking, “Man, that sucks.”  And you’d be right to think so.  Do you know why?  Writing is hard work.
  • This phrase is incorrect:  “He gave the gift to Jeannie and I.”
  • This phrase is correct: “He gave the gift to Jeannie and me.”
  • Do not use exclamation points.
  • If you don’t know how to use semicolons, then don’t use them.
  • Use one-inch margins and double-space your manuscripts.
  • Use Courier or Times New Roman 12-point font.
  • Avoid profanity when possible.  I mean seriously, do you really need to use the word “bitch” when you could’ve said, “Writing a first draft is a nightmare.”
  • Invoke the “show, don’t tell” rule.  In other words, do not tell your reader about emotions. Show your reader about emotions.  Look at these two sentences and tell me which has more impact.  If your choice is the first one, creative writing is not for you.
    • He was mad as hell, got red in the face, and actually ground his teeth.
    • He slammed his hand on the table, his face splotched, his lips pulled into a dog-like grimace.
  • The word “data” is plural.  The data are stored in the computer.
  • If you want to italicize a word in your manuscript, underline it.  This is a holdover rule from typewriter days, but it still applies.
  • When a character says something, you need to write it like this:
    • John said, “Do not use adverbs.”
  • You do not need any other type of dialog tag.  For example, this is bad:
    • John exerted, “Do not use adverbs.”
  • Change your mind.  Change your mind often.  It’s not a character flaw.
  • Don’t start a story telling about the weather.  Now, if your character is traumatized because her house cat was just struck by lightning, then it’s okay.  Otherwise, weather is just fluff.
  • Don’t start a story with the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
  • Do not ever write a story about a vampire with AIDS.  It’s been done.
  • Do not ever write a story where the characters discover they are Adam and Even.  It’s been done.
  • Do not write a story about a computer that becomes God.  It’s been done.
  • Do not preach politics.  If a character has a passionate view of politics, then convey that through the character.  Your reader doesn’t give a tinker’s dam about your political views.  Sorry, that’s just the way life is.  They also don’t care who your favorite NFL team is, or why you think your church is the best.  They want to read about your characters.
  • Ask yourself if you are enjoying your own story.  Do you love it?  Do you yearn to see how the characters are becoming “real people” as the story goes along?  Do you think you have a really cool ending?  If so, that is awesome.  If not, then write something else.
    • Contrary to everything we’re taught since birth, it is okay to give up.  Giving up means that there is some task (in this case writing a story) that you are not capable of doing for a legitimate reason.
  • If you aspire to be just like a writer who blew his brains out with a shotgun, you might want to rethink your priorities.

~ If I made a mistake in grammar or spelling, then the fault belongs to me.  Be accountable.

~ As always, Peace from Keith

© 2011 Alan Keith Parker — All rights reserved.  If you steal my work, you will hear from my lawyer.

4 thoughts on “Bass-Ackward Writing Advice

  1. Actually, the first draft for me was fairly easy. It is the editing that I just can’t seem to make myself do. It is torture just thinking about it (notice there isn’t any doing in that statement). Thanks for the advice. Now to take that first step.

    1. I’m going to continue with advice on editing for a while.
      A lot of folks are like you: They can crank out a rough draft but HATE editing. I’m the other way around. I have trouble getting my first draft finished, but I love editing. Nobody ever said I was sane :-)

  2. Jeff

    Hey Keith…great blog…as you know I have dabbled in writing but can’t linger there. Splain these two points por favor. One … Do not use adverbs…two … Do not use exclamation points…what are you
    fucking kidding me? And of course three…do not curse …God himself knows
    That I curse and repent. Thanks Jeff

    1. Ah, Jeff, my George-Carlin-plagued friend, maybe I can help:

      1. Adverbs are considered a shortcut. Consider this sentence: “Man, that storm was really bad last night”. That’s fine for water cooler chit-chat. But when you’re writing, you’re not talking. You don’t have the luxury of tone of voice.

      So, you’ve got to use a word that really (ahem) smacks the reader in the face. I’ll give you a for instance. For instance:
      “Man, that storm was violent.”
      “Man, that storm was lethal.”

      Make sense? Probably not. It’s a holiday week, and I try to avoid thinking too hard on holidays.

      2. Exclamation points are just overused.

      How many emails do you see with “Wow!!!!” or “Cheap Viagra from Canada!!!!!”?
      That piece of punctuation is just too misused these days. It’s better just avoid it. Much in the same way you can avoid Carlin’s seven words.

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