There’s been a lot of talk between John, me, and you, Dear Readers, about how sick we’ve all grown of the endless lists and trite advice offered by writing blogs.
Wild tangent time.
I was reading an article on Cracked.com (the only place where lists are awesome) a couple of weeks ago, 7 Commonly Corrected Grammar Errors That Aren’t Mistakes. I read everything on Cracked.com, and if you don’t, you should feel bad for your wasted life. Anyways, Bucholz, the columnist who wrote this, takes a brief aside to talk about the war between Prescriptive and Descriptive Grammarians. I thought about that and said, “Huh. That sounds like the kickoff to my next entry on Scribble Splatter.”
Or rather, when I was getting coffee the morning after I read that post, I said that. Then I reminded myself what “that” was in my sentence, because the antecedent was unclear. Then, 16 days later, I wrote this. You’re reading it now. Hurray, efficiency!
Brief background if Cracked.com articles are TL;DR (shame on you). Prescriptive Grammarians make lists and bitch when people don’t follow the rules. Descriptive Grammarians understand that the lists exist, but also accept that language is alive and you can’t nail it to the wall without killing it. You see where I’m going with this?
Not even with my Article Title? And the bread crumbs I left?
If you want to write great writing, find great examples, instead of a checklist. Writing isn’t engineering. It isn’t a launch date checklist. It’s harder to nail down.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to nail down. I absolutely do believe that you can teach writing.
But you can’t teach it with lists. You can’t teach it with childish adherence to a set of formulae (unless you want childish, immature writing). Or maybe you can, what do I know? (Not an Expert)
What I’m saying is that instead of going to the lists, generated by people who love lists from some arbitrary data set, do yourself the favor of looking at the data.
What I’m saying is read. Read critically. Read each sentence carefully. Do that for the whole essay (if you’re an essayist). The whole comedy article (if you’re a comedy writer). The whole 800-page science fiction epic (ouch). Think critically the whole time. Did that sentence work for you? That paragraph? That chapter? That novel? What didn’t work? Why? How would you have improved it? Maybe I can’t write a better Dresden novel than Jim Butcher, but I’d certainly write Dresden differently. Not because Jim Butcher is a bad writer. I love reading his novels. But our voices are different and my execution choices will be different. I’ll focus on different things. When you’re reading critically, those things you’d change? That’s you.
And now that you know who you are: Write. You can’t get in shape from watching other people’s workouts.