A few days ago I was indulging in one of my habitual reveries on the delight of the writing life, and veering momentarily into reality, I thought that everything I ever wrote was so much better before I wrote it down. As long as my writing remained in the Platonic ideal of pure ideas, why gosh, it would make you simply weep from how beautiful and perfect it was. But then I would spoil it by putting it on paper.
Maybe my problem is that I never bought a rule book. On the other hand, the rule books I’ve seen always have dumb, vague rules like “Don’t use two words when one will do.” How am I supposed to know or comprehend whether I need one word or two? And what about that rule that a preposition is one thing you should never send a sentence with? Who thought that up?
I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, David’s a professional writer, or would be if anyone had ever paid him, so he could probably provide some truly practical rules in his blog.” Coming right up! I’ve even divided them into categories.
1) Writing should be exciting to read and should hold the reader and make them feel something, so always use plenty of exclamation points. People just naturally feel more excited when they see those things. Like this!
2) You should capitalize any word that seems Important to You Personally. Otherwise, how would the reader know, and the whole point of people reading you is to know your personal opinion.
3) When a word needs to be emphasized, use quotation marks, to show that you really mean it: My mother always prepared “delicious” food, and we were glad to “eat” it.
4) You want your readers to stay engaged with what you’re saying, so at least once in every paragraph, end a sentence with “you know?” This makes readers feel that you’re asking their opinion, and they will think more about what they’re reading.
5) Also to keep readers engaged, mention things in your writing that people like, such as kittens, chocolate, or naps. Even in more formal writing, like journalism, this can still be done: Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris this morning for the donor conference, bringing a kitten for President Hollande.
6) Don’t let your writing get too heavy, which turns readers off, so if you need to write about serious topics, occasionally add phrases such as “he said smiling” or “she laughed”: “When did your family drown?” he said smiling.
7) Write about what you know, especially if what you know is invasions from other planets, foreign spies who have infiltrated the American government, or lots of sex with really attractive people. OK, not that last one. We would know you just made that up.
8) Don’t write about high school, because I hate that, and not just because I got locked in the girls’ bathroom that time, and I was wearing pants. That was just a lie people spread.
9) If you write about famous people who are still alive, always make them one inch taller than they really are. They will feel flattered by this and will not sue you for writing about them: Tom Cruise, all five feet four inches of him, staggered drunkenly out onto the sidewalk.
Maybe I should have put this point first. Now that I think about it, though, I’m not too clear on what this refers to anyway, so never mind this one. You don’t need it.
So if you will follow the “rules” I’ve laid out here, you will end up with writing that says What You Wrote, you know? He said smiling. And held up a kitten!