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Think balance

What you need to know if you're starting to write

 

In the last couple of blog posts I’ve been writing about the so-called ‘rules’ of writing and what we can gain from them and also why sometimes you’ll find contradictory advice, especially online, about whether they are good for us in the first place.

Putting the fun back into the fundamental (rules of writing)

That brings me to one of the most fundamental ‘rules’ of writing, one that I think is always true, no matter what, and no it isn’t ‘show not tell’ or ‘write every day’! At the moment I think it is probably the third most important rule of writing, although I will probably change my mind tomorrow.

The other two

The other ‘rules’ on my top three (again, at the moment) are:

  1. Turn up and write.
  2. Be an observer of the world.

You can decide what order they go in for you! I’ll write more about them another time.

So what’s my third most important rule of writing?

It’s all about balance. Actually, this ‘rule’ goes for life in general too, right? Dressing up is fun, but if was Halloween every day we’d get bored. For many people, ice cream is nice for a treat, but for three meals a day, we’d feel ill, right? So you can see how this works.

Note that this advice applies more subtly too. This is true for me (feel free to insert a desire habit that’s true for you): I want to practise yoga regularly. If I’m tired, is it better to do my full routine anyway, or pick a shorter one? Or is ‘being tired’ an excuse? What if I’m ill? Answer: It’s all about balance. I get to decide what that means.

Add balance to any other writing rule and it suddenly makes sense

You can take any other writing rule, and add ‘it’s all about balance’ and suddenly – as if by magic – it makes much more sense. Here’s how:

Show not tell is all about balance. I probably need to ‘show’ the important parts but I’ll be using ‘tell’ too.

Write every day? Yes, but turning up is all about balance. ‘Write regularly’ might work better.

Write what you know is all about balance. Start with what you know deeply intimately, research what you don’t.

‘Murder your darlings’ is all about balance. Sometimes that pet phrase, the one you really love, is there for a reason and your readers will love it too.

Add ALL of the top three

I’ve advised you to add balance to any other writing ‘rule’, but actually I think you need to add all three of my (current) top three writing ‘rules’ to any other writing advice to make it work. Let’s try it.

Show not tell only works if you

  • Turn up
  • Observe the world around you
  • Add balance

Write what you know only works if you

  • Turn up
  • Observe the world around you
  • Add balance

Test it out

You get the idea! What’s more, you can use TOB – turn up, observe, balance – as a test for any other writing ‘rule’ you come across. Like this:

  1. Write the ‘rule’ down, with plenty of space around it.
  2. Have the ‘yes but’ conversation I suggested in yesterday’s post.
  3. Add ‘only works if you turn up, observe the world around you, and add balance’ – does it make sense like this?

Let’s try it using a ridiculous example:

All writers wearing yellow trousers can write a thousand words in one session.

‘Yes but –’ doesn’t work. Unless I love wearing yellow trousers and am superstitious about them, I’m unlikely to say ‘yes’ to this writing rule.

Adding TOB doesn’t work either. ‘All writers wearing yellow trousers can write a thousand words in one session only works if you turn up, observe the world around you, and add balance.’ Nope! Still doesn’t make any sense. The yellow trousers are a non-sequitur;  they have nothing to do with it.

Let’s try a real live piece of writing advice:

Cut the adjectives and adverbs from your writing if you want it to work.

The ‘yes, but conversation’ works: ‘Yes, I like this editing technique, it helps me make my writing as direct as possible and improves the pacing, but sometimes I want to use adjectives and adverbs, especially unexpected ones, to ‘transport’ the reader into the action.’

And so does TOB: ‘Cut the adjectives and adverbs from your writing only works if you turn up, observe the world around you, and add balance.’

So next time you hear some writing advice you have a way of evaluating it. Don’t forget that balance is a crucial part of the equation.

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