Writing Rule #22: Your Writing Style Isn’t Completely Stable
Creative writers are never completely stable people, so why would we ever think our styles and skills would be static?
Put simply, they’re not. Or at least they don’t have to be. And sometimes they genuinely need to change. That’s why the best writers are always willing to work on their writing styles.
Let’s pick on me as an example this time around.
Only a few years ago, my own writing style included the use of way too many adverbs that ended in “ly.” So my story settings didn’t just exist; they existed beautifully. My characters didn’t simply interact with each other; they interacted engagingly. And my plots didn’t merely move; they moved inspiringly or enticingly or intensely.
My editor certainly was. She almost killed me. And rightfully so.
While I’m still not anti-adverb today, back then, I might have 25 different examples of those vocabulary choices on a single page. We’re talking story pages here, which means about 400 words; not the 650 or so you’ll find on a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of computer paper.
At first, when my editor told me that, I scoffed at her. Rather annoyed at the criticism, I flat-out told her she was wrong. It was a position I was so confident about, that I didn’t hesitate one bit in taking up her challenge to open up my book-in-the-making to see for myself.
So I did a quick search in my latest manuscript for “ly,” only to see it come up with some astronomical number of hits. Don’t ask me what the actual figure was, but it was high. Like really, really, really high.
That was a defining moment for my writing style.
With my eyes newly opened to such a self-committed travesty, I began to take great care in cutting down on how many ly-ending adverbs I used. Today, unless there’s some extreme exception that needs to be taken into account, I make sure to use no more than five per storybook page.
As a result, my editor doesn’t complain about that problem anymore.
She still points out my flaws elsewhere, but this particular cardinal sin is off the list, all because I recognized how I needed to change a bit.
Now, I do need to stress that you don’t want anyone to hijack your writing style. I always tell my editing clients that they don’t need to accept every single one of my suggestions. For that matter, they shouldn’t accept every single one of my suggestions.
I certainly don’t accept all of my truly brilliant editor’s comments and criticisms. Eighty-five to 90% of the time, I’ll take her opinion at face value (or with only moderate grumblings) and alter my text according to her input. But there are those times where she missed something somehow, or she doesn’t recognize how a chapter is setting up the next segment, or I just don’t agree with her.
In which case, I leave my work as-is, whether it’s a plot point or setting detail or characterization element. Or some aspect about my writing style.
That’s a healthy mentality to have. It’s your story, and you want to own it for all it’s worth.
Go ahead and be the final authority in what you publish. Your work should showcase your choices and beliefs and personality, not someone else’s dictations.
Just keep in mind that a completely stable writing style – one that refuses to budge for anything – might not be worth much.
There’s really, truly almost always something you can seriously learn from someone else. Honestly…
Such as discovering how to cut back on one’s ly-adverbs.