On Terrible Writing Advice From Famous Writers

 August 10, 2017

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Any writer has certainly come across a lot of advice on the Net, which supposedly should improve their writing. In this case, recommendations by acknowledged authors always seem more reliable and credible, however dull they may occasionally be. Do they spawn so much interest because they are really worth it or solely due to the authority of the famous people?

As practice shows, much of the advice is not applicable in real life and can even have a detrimental effect. In this article, we tried to figure out what advice you should avoid under any circumstances. Find some of the least helpful ones below.

On semicolons in writing

Kurt Vonnegut hated semicolons, calling them completely meaningless and comparing with “transvestite hermaphrodites”. Although he’s known for one of the biggest masterpieces of his time – Slaughterhouse Five – his statement concerning semicolons was at the very least unreasonable.

First and foremost, semicolons have a purpose. If you happen to be a fan of thorough descriptions and long passages dwelling on one subject, the semicolon is the most convenient way to highlight logical parts of that sentence.

Why not divide the sentence into several ones instead? In some cases, this will deprive the description of emotional power and completeness. Yet, always choose the approach on a case-by-case basis.

On limited number of words in a sentence

V.S. Naipaul wrote that a sentence should not contain more than ten or twelve words. Well, even the sentence above doesn’t follow this rule and doesn’t become incomprehensible because of that. If you feel that you simply cannot stuff the thought into the artificially created limit, don’t. We understand that some topics for descriptive writing require more than this limit.

A better rule to follow is to assess the readability of the sentence after you’ve written it. How to do that? Have someone read the long sentence out loud. If they stumble or lose the train of thought in the middle, the sentence needs simplification.

The golden rule is to use a new sentence for every new idea. If the idea is too complex, create a separate paragraph to explain it in detail. This way, you won’t need to compromise meaning for readability.

On shorter descriptions

American novelist Elmore Leonard advised not to go into long descriptions of places and things. However, such advice doesn’t always work in real life. Just imagine depriving James Joyce of his detailed descriptions of Dublin in Ulysses. The book would probably get twice shorter. An author always has his own vision of a place he describes.

Thus, it’s simply arrogant to insist upon one’s style of writing. Everyone’s got their own ideas and shouldn’t necessarily comply with someone else’s opinion on that.

The common issue, however, is that not everyone understands the main reason for writing. If we’re talking about news format or business materials, dwelling on certain descriptions may really be inappropriate. However, in a case of longer formats of writing, such as novels, thorough description of surroundings can be part of the style. Getting rid of it is not only inadvisable but can even be harmful to your creative purposes.

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