Recently I wrote an article for a blog for a FB group of which I am part. The following is that article:
There are as many writing styles as there are stories written, to be sure. We all have our own. But one thing I have come to believe is that everyone, regardless of writing style, can benefit from a personal writer’s bible.
I remember when I first began making a serious study of writing. I had ‘The Professor’, a knowledgeable editor/writer who prefers anonymity, to guide me. We met with two other writers weekly and voraciously delved into the inner workings of writing for the better part of three years. Our meetings were not necessarily a writer’s club, but more of a class or workshop. Each week we focused on a specific aspect of writing, from simple areas like the power of the comma and how to avoid info-dumping, to more in-depth character arcs over series and subtext.
Slowly but surely my character development and plots came into focus, but still there was something lacking in my writing. One week, The Professor had us bring in one page of our WIPs. We exchanged this page with the intention of focusing on the descriptive words we chose and why. This was an eye-opening night for me. For the first time I realized where I could make a vast improvement, but it was not found in those descriptive words of which we were searching. It came when one of my classmates said, “you say ‘looked’ a lot.”
I quickly read my page and saw that my characters “looked” no less than five times on that single page! This was truly alarming to me. How could I have not noticed this?
The professor said, most likely in an attempt to rally my spirits, that we all have words we use like a crutch. But that these words, though they help us get our story on the page, should be found and obliterated.
That night I went home and began scanning my work not for what writers deem most important like backstory or plot, but for simple overused words, like “turned” and “looked”. Over the next week I found over 12 words I used as a crutch that needed to be thrown out. So I wrote down each word and began searching my document one word at a time to alter each into a more descriptive or useful option. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was the beginning of my writer’s bible, because once I bandaged these words, leaving few instances where the offending word still remained (because let’s face it, at some point our characters have to look and turn) I began to see other failed words in the form of phrases. For example, my characters, when they were angry, never stopped ‘gritting their teeth’. What I ended up with were a lot of characters with nubby teeth because they had no other option for displaying their anger.
Something had to change.
Like the Christian bible teaches and cautions against fault and sin. My writing bible was also a teacher and a caution. I had committed egregious writing sins which needed to be wiped clean from the page. This bible of mine helped me attain a higher level of writing peace. (Perhaps the analogy is over the top, but you get my point.)
Over the next year or so my personal bible evolved to included not only crutch words and phrases, but many others, like tautologies (of which the sin was great), purple prose, and superfluous adverbs. As each shortcoming manifest itself through my own editing or through the help of wonderful beta readers, I would add to my bible the “commandments” of which I should be most warry.
Finally, a wonderful thing began to happen. The work I’d put in became part of my writing style. The more I corrected these problems, the easier they became to spot as I wrote my first drafts. I was able to delete the word or phrase before it ever darkened my page, making it easier to focus on those more important aspects like bonding to my characters, creating voice, and developing plot.
A personal writer’s bible took my writing to a more elevated level. No one is perfect and all drafts are just that, drafts. But being honest with yourself about your shortcomings, changing what doesn’t work, and taking advice and critique from others is the only way to hone your skill as a writer. It is a messy business. Sometimes the red ink can be overwhelming, but as in life, a good bible by your side will make it easier bear. Bare? Baer? Whelp. Homonyms. There’s another one for my writers bible. Best of luck!