I Write Like…

On a side note, I just pasted some of  “Jesus Wept” into http://iwl.me/ and this is what it said:

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Not sure if I agree, especially considering the content of what I wrote. I can’t even remember the name of the last Lovecraft story I read. Internet analyzers like this are always so tongue-in-cheek anyway. I write like me. I have honestly never tried to “write like” any author, other than learning some tips and applying them to my writing.

Correction. My earliest venture into being a writer was fourth grade. I stumbled onto a copy of Stephen King’s novel Christine. I only read the back and maybe a few pages, but I was terrified and mesmerized by the idea of an object taking life and possessing its owner. So, I wrote a story (a really bad one) about two of my He-Man toys coming to life and terrorizing the neighborhood. I think I tried to use some of King’s words, even though I didn’t understand them all, and did my best to make the murder scenes gruesome by using the words “blood” and “squirted” a lot. I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Copley, reading every word and then patting me on the shoulder. “You’re an interesting kid, Jason.”

I read Stephen King’s On Writing last month and based on some tips he gives in the book, I created my own Writer’s Toolbox. This is not an attempt to “write like” Stephen King. In fact, many of the tips aren’t even mentioned in his book. This is a mashup of strategies I have picked up along the way as a teacher, writer, reader, student, and thinking human being:

  • Use words you know. Don’t try to “impress” with bigger words where smaller ones work fine.
  • Read, read, read, read, especially books that expand and challenge your usual vocabulary.
  • Be specific, plain, and direct. Don’t try to “dress up” your words.
  • When first writing something, use the first word that comes to mind. If you hesitate, you will be searching for something to “impress” rather than “express.”
  • Avoid cliche phrases, especially wordy ones like “the fact that,” “at the end of the day,” “at this point in time” and (shudder) “that is so cool.”
  • Avoid passive tense. I repeat! AVOID PASSIVE TENSE!
  • Avoid decorating your sentences with too many adverbs.
  • Avoid adverbs in dialogue attribution (ex.- “Put it down!” she shouted angrily.) If you’re doing your job as a writer, the story will suggest the tone of the dialogue without adverbs.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of just using “he said” and “she said” (Thank you Elmore Leonard)
  • When writing dialogue, make sure your reader knows who is speaking (unless you are Cormac McCarthy or James Joyce).
  • Be a confident writer, not a timid writer.
  • Respect the rules, but don’t be bound by them. Fiction especially does not have to be (and sometimes shouldn’t be) grammatically correct.
  • Read and practice The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Okay, so I never said I didn’t learn from the masters. In fact, seeing authors as mentors is recommended if you want to be serious about writing. When I read novels, essays, books, stories, articles, blogs, I try to pay attention to how authors follow rules, break rules, and even invent their own rules. A lot of it is conscious and intentional and that it what makes them great.

Until later, I will leave you with some of the masters’ words:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” — Stephen King

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” — Elmore Leonard

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway

“What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.” — Anne Lamott

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About Jason

I am a Jesus follower, husband and father, high school teacher, hiker, writer, lover of the outdoors, theater, music, books, and movies.
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