A version of this post was originally published in January 2012.
The road to bad writing is paved with Experienced Writers’ rules. Developing a literary style is a long process with no real proven method to it; it takes guesswork, constructive criticism, and a bit of an ear for poetry. Suggestions from established writers are generally helpful. However, every now and again, an Experienced Writer will try to impose on others a set of rules that are almost guaranteed to generate bland, undistinguished prose.
For example: About three years ago, Grammarly.com published a meme titled, “How to Write Good”, by Frank L. Visco, listing 23 rules that Visco said he’d learned in “several years in the word game”. Let’s go through them, shall we?
- Avoid Alliteration. Always: If you’re going to alliterate that badly, by all means, refrain. Starting three successive words with the same letter is bad alliteration. However, Anglo-Saxon poetry was highly alliterative, and Shakespeare was a master of distributing alliterative sounds. Trust your ear.
- Prepositions are not words to end sentences with: This is the sort of absolute rule up with which no one should put.
- Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.): Okay, I’ll give him this one.
- Employ the vernacular: I think he means that polysyllabic words are pretentious and obfuscatory. Alas, unless he’s truly concerned that people might write essays in Latin, Cherokee, or Hindi for publication in English-language media, his choice of vernacular is singularly unfortunate (see No. 21 below).