“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
If you’re a writer who pays any amount of attention to the Internet (and how can you not be?), then you, like me, are no doubt regularly bombarded with advice: “37 Brutal But Eye-Opening Tips from Famous Authors, ” “Jack London’s Writing Advice, ” “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.” It seems not a day goes by that I don’t find one or more of these headlines in my feed. Yes, of course, I could ignore the links, or stay off social media altogether, but often enough I find myself signing in and clicking through—because who doesn’t hope occasionally for some brilliant blast of insight, some perfect kick in the ass?—only to be left strangely deflated by the advice I’ve just received. In fact, I’ve come to suspect that the likelihood of these pearls of wisdom stymieing a writer—aspiring or otherwise—is quite a bit greater than the chance of their helping her at all.
Take this gem, upon which I recently stumbled:
“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
At a coffee shop in Chicago, I once served a bagel to Kurt Vonnegut; that’s possibly the high point of my many years waiting tables. He seemed to me a nice person—twinkly, grandfatherly—and I’d very recently read and loved Slaughterhouse Five. That said, WTF? Putting aside the problematic politics of this (ok, dated) statement: Semicolons do serve, you know, a purpose (c.f., Claire Messud: “For those of us whose thoughts digress; for whom unexpected juxtapositions are exhilarating rather than tiresome; who aim, if always inadequately, to convey life’s experience in some semblance of its complexity—for such writers, the semi-colon is invaluable”), while most of the best books I’ve encountered indeed read as if their author went to college (Virginia Woolf’s, for example, who never did). Even if Vonnegut’s just being funny (and he isn’t just being funny, or even . . . funny) it’s not at all hard to imagine a legion of young Vonnegut fans becoming smug about semi-colons for the rest of their lives, and about writers who use semi-colons, and for what?
If that one’s too silly, here’s one that at least sounds closer to sane:
“Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.”
Advice often robs us of the things we love. This advice, for example, might rob us of a writer like Georges Perec, who goes into such great detail in his Life: A User’s Manual, with its “meticulous descriptions of all the objects in each of the rooms of a seven-storey block of flats in Paris . . . surely a device permitting or more probably requiring the use of every word in the Grand Larousse dictionary, ” as David Bellos, the book’s translator, describes it. And what of Woolf and her gorgeous “Kew Gardens” (“From the oval shaped flower-bed there rose perhaps a hundred stalks spreading into heart-shaped or tongue-shaped leaves half way up and unfurling at the tip red or blue or yellow petals marked with spots of colour raised upon the surface; and from the red, blue or yellow gloom of the throat emerged a straight bar, rough with gold dust and slightly clubbed at the end. The petals were voluminous enough to be stirred by the summer breeze, and when they moved, the red, blue and yellow lights passed one over the other, staining an inch of the brown earth beneath with a spot of the most intricate colour”), so thick with visual description it seems almost to become a garden itself?
“A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.”
“Include a beautiful woman with raven locks and porcelain skin, preferably quite young, and let her die tragically of some unknown ailment.”apple store education discount higher education act good for health bad for education ipad education pricing what is postsecondary education perdoceo education corporation prodigy education early childhood education jobs best states for education warren buffett education columbia county board of education nicolle wallace education brown vs the board of education illinois department of education tulare county office of education weebly education education requirements apple for education swing education kaplan financial education ohio board of education cte education elementary education degree ministry of education education policy national defense education act us secretary of education general education requirements online masters in education clifton board of education education technology what is higher education responsive education solutions best buy education discount education major free education connecticut department of education nicholas county board of education job in higher education james franco education tn department of education plc education troup county board of education postsecondary education definition states education ranking aesop frontline education early education kids education app nurse education journal education galaxy login mn education education federal credit union education background foundation for individual rights in education education to the core pacific driver education udl education bayonne board of education sc dept of education k12 education fape special education nail career education journal of chemical education hunter education anderson continuing education education tax credit 2020 what is iep in education options oic education new oriental education stock nys education department board of education phone number laureate education nc education lottery app times higher education ohio dept of education level of education meaning education logo re education camps drivers education classes near me nj department of education