When I first starting writing I had no idea what I was doing, I merely wrote the story that was in my heart. It couldn't have been all bad, because a publisher chose to publish the work. Fast forward, and I have 20 published books and quite a few awards. Yes, I have been blessed.
But... something strange happened along the way: I started listening to voices, and not the ones in my head. There are as many snippets of writing advice as there are words in the English language. While I appreciate any assistance in being a better writer, sometimes the contradictions get out of hand. Here's a few things that confuse me:
1.To engage your reader, write deep POV. Having the protagonist question themselves is a good way to do this.
2. Never, ever have your character ask a question unless it's in dialog.
3. Limit the words: was, that, it, and all their forms.
4. Never use just, really, or very.
5. Never use adverbs.
6. Never have autonomous body parts (though many cannot agree on what this means).
7. Never use passive voice.
8. Never use "Mom" and "Dad" unless in dialog.
9. Never start a story with dialog.
10. Don't use "so".
11. Don't use exclamation points.
12. Don't use semi-colons.
13. Don't end sentences with a simple word like "it."
14. Use inner dialog.
15. Don't use inner dialog.
16. Never use tags, only beats.
17. You need more tags.
18. Don't write in present tense.
19. Don't write in first person.
20. Don't write in third person.
21. Don't write omniscient POV.
22. Show don't tell. Always.
23. Sometimes telling is necessary to provide backstory and give your reader a break from constant tension.
Are you beginning to see the problem? What was once simple story-telling has too many rules, and many of those rules vary from editor to editor, reader to reader.
I, myself, am guilty of pointing out these things in works I beta. I pay attention to all writing advice because I want to become a better writer with each new book.
But you know what?
Excessive rules turn writing into a chore, and if writing is a chore, your reader will see it, and reading will be a chore. Know what else? I've been consuming books at an alarming rate lately. Wonderful books with high ratings and reviews. Most of them contained examples from above. Judging by the reviews, no one cared!
What has happened to my work is that I've become so focused on not using 'that' that I've lost sight of the true reason for writing. Don't get me wrong, doing a seek and destroy on "it" and "that" can make wording so much stronger, but all the fancy wording in the world doesn't make a good story.
What makes a good story is... a good story.
It's time to take a step back, pull in a deep breath, and let the words flow. I don't mean toss grammar rules out the window or abandon proper sentence structure, but if rules are getting in the way of writing, there is a problem. Advice, like a hammer, is a great tool. Also, like a hammer, if used improperly, it can cause great destruction.
Back in my early days I wrote good stories, and I didn't get one danged comment on the number of "thats", though someone did once count how many F-bombs Lucky dropped in Diversion: 85.
Trying to follow every piece of advice has put a damper on my creativity, leaving me so nervous I'm more afraid to publish a story now than I was ten years ago when I first started. So, I'm going to stop stop trying to be perfect and just write.
Maybe then Diversion 8 will finally see the light of day.