Thursday, July 24, 2014

Writing- One Helluva Process

All Aboard The Writing Process

I don't know about you, but I have attended many writing conferences that are put together by writing associations, clubs, and societies. These conferences include many guest speakers like agents, authors, publishers, and editors.

After attending these conferences, it seems a message is coming through loud and clear:

There are many "Dos" and "Don'ts" in writing that can help you get published or hinder your chances. So, being a writer, of course I take these Dos and Don'ts seriously while I write. I take them seriously because I am a serious writer.

But now I am simply a frustrated writer stuck in this process that feels like a road trip through hell at times.


Hyperbole?  Yes.

For emphasis.

...and because it's true!

First Stop: The Dos and Don'ts

Among these famous Dos and Don'ts of writing are:

  • Do use descriptive language
  • Do consider your audience when writing
  • Do read in the genre that you write
  • Do use exciting first sentences to start each chapter
  • Do write in active voice
  • Do use imagery, metaphors, and other devices

  • Don't have a prologue
  • Don't have too many scenes in one chapter
  • Don't use adverbs
  • Don't use tags like "said" "asked" "laughed" throughout
  • Don't use passive voice

These are just some of the rules I have heard from experts over the years and they are embedded in my brain as I write, haunting me...tormenting me...and sucking all the creativity out of me as I write.

More hyperbole?  Yes, of course.

Because it's true!

This summer, a popular writers magazine released a summer reading list of the top twenty most successful books out there for my target audience. I, being a writer and a reader, borrowed three of these books off the prestigious list to read over the summer.

One June evening, I snuggled up in bed, anxious to read an award winning book in my genre written by a successful author. I hoped to glean much from the writer's grasp of the writing process and craft. I couldn't wait to learn by reading a great book!

After I read through the title page, list of other books this author had published, and the acknowledgement page, I came to the start of the book. Yay!


What?? Wait a minute. Isn't "prologue" listed as one of the "Don'ts" of writing??

Why, yes it is.

Aren't we told by the experts at these conferences NOT to include a prologue? Don't they tell us new writers that a prologue is a kiss-of-death and will end your chances of landing an agent for your book?

Why, yes that is what we are told.


After I quickly read through the forbidden prologue, I began chapter one.

Passive voice.

What??!! The first chapter is written mostly in passive voice!

How can this be? Aren't we told by the experts at these very expensive writing conferences NOT to use passive voice but active voice?

Why, yes that is what we are told.


And yet, there I was, reading a very successful book published by a big publishing house, written by an author who has a literary agent, and the book had broken many rules before chapter 2.

The writer also used...gasp...adverbs!

Oh the humanity!

Next Stop? The Editing Process

I completed the book and wasn't that impressed with the story. It was a cute mystery for middle grade readers, but not literature. But I could see why it sold so many copies. It was short (about 60,000 words), and each chapter contained only 2 scenes.

So, I went back to my manuscript and continued on, keeping in mind all the rules listed above. And as I wrote, I omitted the adverbs (going against my intentions) and used very few "said", "asked", and other tags. When finished, I gave the manuscript to beta readers and my editors.

A funny thing happened on the way to the insane asylum...

My editor insisted that I use "said" because the lack of tags was distracting.

My beta reader, however, suggested that I not use "said" but use other tags like "asked" or "laughed" or "whispered" and she even suggested that I use more...gasp...ADVERBS.

Wait a minute! Aren't we writers told by the experts at these writers conferences NOT to rely on tags and not to use adverbs?

Why, yes we are.


Ever wonder why writers twitch? Now you know why.

Last Stop: Never Give Up

After screaming out all my frustrations today, I sat before my manuscript, that's draft #4 of my manuscript, and watched the cursor blip on the screen.

What rules should I follow? What about what my beta reader suggested? What about adverbs?

What should I do?

I know what the experts will say: Do you want an agent someday? Do you want your book to get published? Well, then, follow our rules because we are the experts. We know what we're talking about.

I know what my editor will say: Proust used tags and so should you!

And my beta readers? I know what they will say:  Most middle grade readers don't read Proust.


Yes I want an agent some day to assist me with my writing career. Yes, I want my beta readers to enjoy my books. Yes, I want my editor to enjoy reading my prose without having to mark up my manuscript so much.

But I also need to be who I am and write as I want to write. And if that means a prologue...then a prologue it is. If it means using adverbs, then adverbs it is! If it means not having so many "said" tags in the dialogue, then that's how it is going to be.

The writing process is an arduous journey. But it is the journey that matters most, not the destination. Anyway, that's what I have learned over the years.

Rant over.

What about you? Do you insist on following all the "Dos" and "Don'ts" of writing? How have you developed your writing style? 



  1. Ruth, this is a great post and one that must resonate with many writers. I think many of us get paralyzed by what we've learned about good writing. I think, in the end, we need to be gentle with ourselves, to let our own words (even adverbs) tell the story, allow it to be passive or active--whatever tells the story best for that scene. Trust yourself. Change in the rewrite if what you've learned (about prologues, adverbs, and passive voice) seems like it will make it better--in your opinion. Trust yourself. You are a writer. You are an artist. Both literally and metaphorically.

    1. I couldn't agree more! I mean, that book I read was mediocre and broke the "rules" yet was published. Ha! So there you go. We need to write OUR book...the one inside...then let go and let the Lord. Thanks Dana for your encouragement!

  2. Well, Ruth, I know this blog WASN'T intended to make me cry, but it brought tears to my eyes. I've been in a slump, overwhelmed by so many rules. This reached into my heart and said, "You're not alone. This too shall pass." Thanks for sharing. It was a tremendous encouragement to me to keep on keeping on.

    1. Awww...I'm so glad it helped. I was so frustrated and almost in tears when I wrote it!!

      Yes we can get bogged down with the Does and Donts of writing that eventually we give up. But don't give up!! Write your book YOUR way.

      You know what? My other beta reader loved the book and didn't care about tags or voice or adverbs. He just relished the story.

      It was a sweet ending to a frustrating day.

      God is good!

  3. First, let me say that I, too, have recently been inadvertently overloaded with too much good advice about how to write. It's hard to remember that "rules" are really just guidelines. But generally those you keep hearing over and over are repeated because they really work.

    In dialogue, I think you need tags whenever it might be confusing who is speaking, but otherwise you don't. Look at some books that you really enjoyed (if you are still able to enjoy reading as a "reader" and not a "writer" who mentally critiques everything), and you'll probably see that dialogue tags are usually "said." That's because the word becomes virtually invisible, provided it isn't used too frequently. Nobody "laughs" an entire sentence, or even a single word, although they might say something and then laugh.

    The trick is to make the writing as transparent to the reader as possible, so that it doesn't wake them from the "fictive dream." For different kinds of stories, you may rely on different rules. Beware of beta reader feedback -- some beta readers feel like they have to give you "advice," rather than reader feedback. Just ask them to let you know where things get slow, confusing, boring, irritating, or unbelievable. They don't need to tell you how to design the shoe, they just need to let you know where it pinches.

    1. Ooh excellent advice, Lisa! Thank you. Especially about tags. I wholeheartedly agree! I want to use them sparingly so they "disappear" to the reader and I think adding adverbs to "said" or using many different tags can distract the reader away from the purpose of the dialogue.

      I have to write how I want and need to write. That's what I'm doing now.

      Thanks again!

  4. This post helped a lot! I just noticed how much I use adverbs in writing... For example, I use the word "quickly" WAY too much. Thanks to the "find" option in Word it's 93 times too much. So now I'm back to editing. Quickly. (:

    1. Oh good! Glad I could help. Ha ha! Yes, when I'm finished revising scenes, I have to search for repeated words and edit away! That's the process...