Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Read a Book

Welcome readers, to another installment of Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! We are rolling right along and into week six of this feature, and the cliche advice just keeps coming.

Okay, really quick let’s have a brief aside here for the new folks who haven’t encountered Being a Better Writer or the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice before. What on Earth is this?

Pretty straightforward, really. The Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is a feature running this summer on Being a Better Writer. BaBW, by the way, is exactly what it sounds like on the tin. It’s a weekly dose of writing advice on a variety of topics, from pacing, to plotting, to character development (sorry, had to break the alliteration there). Running every Monday save holidays for almost six years now, it totals hundreds of articles to browse through and learn from.

The Summer of Cliche Writing Advice, on the other hand, is a special temporary feature. If you’ve ever told someone that you’re writing a book, or even thinking about it, you’ve doubtlessly had the experience of “Oh, well be sure you do …” followed by some bit of quick, cliche advice that seems to follow writers like a lawyer follows an ambulance. Even if it’s your second, or third, or twelfth book, you’re practically guaranteed to have one of this cliche sayings tossed at you, usually from folks that have never written anything, but they heard it somewhere. Sands, my part-time job did a book launch for a world-famous author a year or so ago, and I would fully expect that had anyone in the office talked with them, they would have immediately started spouting off this sort of advice.

It’s pervasive. It’s everywhere. Social media, random conversations. If you announce you’re writing, you’re going to hear something like “Oh, show don’t tell,” “nothing new under the sun,” or “kill your darlings.”

So here’s what the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is all about answering: Are any of these sayings actually useful? Because one of the problems with one-line, easily repeated advice is that over time it can come to mean the opposite of what the original saying went for. It either loses context, meaning … or maybe it doesn’t?

That’s the trick. With all these easily and oft-repeated sayings out there, how do we know which ones are worth paying attention to and which ones aren’t? Are they all good? All bad? Somewhere in the middle? Well, the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is here to answer that question as we tackle saying after saying, digging into it, seeing what makes it tick, and how much of it is really worth paying attention to. And as for this week?

Want to be a writer? Read a Book.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Don’t Be Boring

Welcome readers, to the fifth installment of Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! That’s right, this is entry number five! For some of you, you know what that means, but there may be some newcomers here (as this summer series has pulled in a number of new readers) saying “Hey, what is this?”

It’s pretty straightforward, really. One thing you’ll notice as an author or even just as a fresh writer starting out is that once you openly declare yourself as such, advice just comes out of the woodwork. Everyone and their dog (and possibly their cat) just starts tossing advice at you that they heard … somewhere. Most of them probably couldn’t say where, or they’ll ascribe it to someone famous they’re fairly certain wrote a book. But they heard it, and they’ve been told it’s good advice, and when they hear that someone is planning on writing, well … they share it. They share all of it.

In other words, authors new and experienced often face a deluge of writing advice in the form of short, easily remembered phrases. Phrases that can quickly be read and repeated at a moment’s notice. Phrases that sound pretty helpful.

But are they really? That’s the real question here, and what Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is all about. Are these short, simply sayings worth repeating? Are they useful to a new writer, or even an experienced one? Or are they the equivalent of a passer-by telling a mechanic to “check the brake pads” while they work on a transmission problem?

Each week, we look at a different cliche saying that writers hear constantly or see repeated online. We break it down, examine it, and see if it’s really worth listening to, acknowledging, and passing on … or if it’s something that does more harm than good, something that sounds good, but really isn’t helpful.

With that said, let’s get to it! And this week, we’ve got a classic to look over. This week, we discuss …

Don’t be boring.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Kill Your Darlings

Hello readers! We’re back with the fourth installment of Being a Better Writer‘s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! Which, as this is installment number four, has some of you nodding and ready to move on, but if you’re checking in here for the first time, you might be asking “Wait, what?”

Never fear, here’s your explanation. Being a Better Writer is tackling all those oft-heard, cliche bits of writing advice this summer! That’s right, all those quick little tidbits new (or even established) writers hear from folks on Facebook, or Tumblr, or forums, or in person at a dinner. If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard most of them. You sit down at a dinner you’ve been invited to, someone asks what you do, you say “Well, I’m an author—” and the next thing you know you’re being “advised” by people with sayings like “Well remember, there’s nothing new under the sun!”

Yeah, that kind of thing. Those easily remembered and repeated sayings that are tossed around like candy around authors. They’re everywhere. But … are they really that useful?

That’s the question the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is here to answer! This summer, Being a Better Writer is tackling these common sayings one by one, breaking them down, examining what they say and what they mean … And whether or not that meaning is ultimately good, bad, or just neutral for writers.

Are you ready? Good. Because this week, we’ve got a classic spot of writing advice to break down. This week, we look at …

Kill your darlings.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Stop Planning and Start Writing

Hello readers, and welcome to the third installment of Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! Where each week this summer we’re taking a different look at some of those oft-heard, easily repeated sayings of writing advice that seem to swarm young writers (and even some veteran ones) wherever they go. The quick, off-the-cuff sayings that just seem to crop up like flies.

Because while they’re numerous and oft-repeated, are they really that useful? Or have they, in being cut down to something that’s bite-sized and easily digestible, lost some of that functionality we’d like them to bring, or even perhaps become harmful, like last week’s “Show, don’t tell?”

Or are they distilled wisdom that, while curt, is really quite useful? Well, that’s what Being a Better Writer is figuring out this summer with this series. Is the saying really that useful? What sort of knowledge or advice can we take out of it? Should we be repeating it? Or is it something we shouldn’t use because it’s likely going to cause more stumbling than smooth sailing for a new writer?

Enough pontificating! This week’s quick quip of choice?

Stop Planning and Start Writing.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Show Don’t Tell

Welcome back readers, and welcome to the second installment of Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! Where we, one week at a time, will be taking a look at all those cliche, kitschy sayings that always seem to follow people in the wake of any writing project. Those one-sentence colloquialisms that are tossed out by the dozen on Facebook, Tumblr, or even in real life.

You know, the quick, easy to remember, easy to spout off stuff that sounds fairly smart.

Well … is it? Because last week I compared these sayings to a sculpture that had been carved in a game of telephone: something that’s been passed around so much and so often that while the general shape is sort of in line with things, the rest of the details are more caricatures of actual elements then real, detailed items.

And this summer? For the next few months, Being a Better Writer is going to dig into these bits of cliche advice and see what they really have to offer. Is there wisdom in there? Something we can glean from a such a distilled saying? Or has it been passed on and reduced for brevity so many times that the saying is effectively worthless?

Well, that’s what the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is all about. We’re going to break these sayings down, And this week’s quick quip of choice?

Show Don’t Tell.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice: Nothing New Under the Sun

Hello readers! And welcome to the first installment of Being a Better Writer’s Summer of Cliche Writing Advice! Where we’re looking, one week at a time, at all the cliche writing advice out there, the quick sentences thrown out by dozens of Facebook, Tumblr, and (shudder) Twitter users, or even just regular folks at a coffee shop. The kind of stuff that comes in a quick, digestible sentence and sounds like it’s useful.

Catch is, most of this sort of writing advice is so brusque that it’s really not that useful. Instead, it’s a bit like, well, like a small wooden carving that’s been carved one too many times. it still has the general shape, yes, but it also isn’t quite what it should be. But people keep passing it around anyway and saying “This is that thing!” because now it’s small, somewhat attractive, well-worn, and easy to pass along. Even if the thing it supposedly represents isn’t all that close when someone who’s actually seen one picks the carving up.

Which is why this summer, for the next month or so, Being a Better Writer is going to be digging into a whole range of cliche writing advice sayings that are spat out and regurgitated without much thought for how accurate they really are. The kind of things that are easy to remember and say … but may not hold as much truth, or really even useful advice, as most people think.

Or maybe they do? That’s what the Summer of Cliche Writing Advice is here to find out. We’re going to break these cliche sayings down, see what makes them tick, see what they’re intended to accomplish, what they actually accomplish, where they go wrong, and then see if we can’t glean some good old fashioned knowledge to improve our craft out of what’s left. And the cliche for this week?

There’s nothing new under the sun.

Continue reading

Being a Better Writer Follow-up: Em-dash Addendum

Hello readers! Bit of a mid-week surprise here with a follow-up to Monday’s post, The Ellipses and the Em-Dash, Odd Forms of Punctuation. An interesting follow-up with a bit of history for you that may clear up a question some readers apparently were left with. I got a few comments on the post, split between here on the site and a reblog elsewhere, expressing questions about the en-dash. Nope, not the em-dash, but endash. Which I’ll admit I’d forgotten all about, as for me it was hardly ever used.

Turns out there’s a reason for that. With a few comments on the topic, I went digging, and found out why. And now, I pass it on to you, readers, as it will likely clear up some confusion experienced by some of you after reading Monday’s article.

See, there were a few people who contacted me to point out that they’d never heard of the em-dash being used the way I’d spoken of it, but rather the en-dash. Which, if you’ve not seen it, is just a slightly shorter em-dash. Think halfway between an em-dash and a hyphen. In the US, the only time we use the en-dash is for the dash between dates, like say 1947–1951.

In the US.

Yeah. I did some digging, and found something out I didn’t know before Tuesday morning. See, the em-dash and the en-dash? Both are dashes named for the size of the dash when they were a piece of movable type. One is the size of the letter N, the other the letter M.

Then there’s another bit. Both were dashes, just of different lengths, and so the places doing the printing (likely driven by space and cost factors, as a lot of conventions that became grammar rules came from that) had to choose which was appropriate.

In the United States, the em-dash was chosen to be the common piece, and the en-dash relegated to dates and a few case-specific uses.

In Britain, however, it was the other way around. That’s right, in Britain the en-dash was made the common piece, and the em-dash relegated to dates and specific uses.

Oh. Suddenly some confusion at my post makes a lot of sense. It’s another case where internationally, countries differ in their usage of grammar. Like grey or gray, color or colour.

Thankfully, in the modern era, readers are a little bit more jaded when it comes to such differences thanks to the internet. Pick the one you’re most comfortable with, and again, as stated Monday, be consistent.

Now, back to writing!