writers resources / writers tips

29 Writing Blunders from William Noble

writing tipsAuthor William Noble is a fascinating man. He is the author or co-author of many books. His books for writers, each a main selection of  the Writers Digest Book Club (now defunct), include “Shut Up!” He Explained; Make That Scene, Steal This Plot, and Conflict, Action, and Suspense (Elements of Fiction series). His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in more than 40 magazines and newspapers. He has appeared on more than 80 TV and radio shows in connection with his writing, and now is a full-time writer based in his 150-year-old farmhouse in Cornwall, Vermont.

I bought William Noble’s Noble’s Book of Writing Blunders (Writers Digest 2006) based on the strength of it’s summary, which included good ideas like Don’t write for your eighth-grade teacher, Don’t complicate the obvious, Don’t add adverbs and adjectives to prettify your prose. Common sense reminders of what I should know but forget in the flurry of my own prose. After spending an hour with it, I decided the best ideas were listed on the dustcover, but that alone made the book worth it.

These sound good, don’t they:

  • Don’t Pacify Your Verb Voice
  • Don’t Repeat Without Relevance
  • Don’t be Afraid to Make Your Own Rules

All writers who haven’t made a name for themselves, and with that garnered the permission to write as they please, must follow enough rules that an agent will read their mss. I can add a few more to that list–Show not Tell, Beware the Gerund.

Inside the book, I found less-well-known blunders:

  • Don’t be a slave to the grammar guru. The only time to ignore grammar is in dialogue.
  • Don’t write the perfect paragraph. I didn’t have to read anything to know where this one headed
  • Don’t sprinkle the poet’s urge over the narrator’s product. I get that one too–and I’ve abused it. But then, I grew into my writing, decided to leave poetry for others.

Here’s what I decided: The book has good tips, but Noble takes a long time to make them. The best list of self-edit tips I’ve ever found is in the Marshall Plan. They’re brief, more like reminders than missives, and all very (very) important.

You can read the background on William Noble on his webpage. He seems a likeable, even charismatic man, with a long history of writing. I like that. I may even try one of his other books.

Here are the 29 mistakes William Noble believe you never ever–I mean ever–want to make as a writer. If you want more detail, buy his book and read the relevant chapter:

  1. Don’t write for your eighth grade teacher
  2. Don’t complicate the obvious
  3. Don’t be a slave to a grammar guru
  4. Don’t let that point of view waver
  5. Don’t freeze and formalize language
  6. Don’t use journalese or slangify words and phrases
  7. Don’t overuse the thesaurus
  8. Don’t underuse the dictionary
  9. Don’t duck the punch in punctuation
  10. Don’t wallow in a sentence straightjacket
  11. Don’t write the perfect paragraph
  12. Don’t get trick and jazzy with style
  13. Don’t add adverbs and adjectives to prettify your prose
  14. Don’t sprinkle the poet’s urge over the narrator’s product
  15. Don’t let rhythm and sound turn sour
  16. Don’t dabble with smoky words
  17. Don’t expect the maid to clean up your mess
  18. Don’t hug fad words without your fingers crossed
  19. Don’t get cute with spellings and dialogue
  20. Don’t wave away cliches and botched metaphors
  21. Don’t pacify your very voice
  22. Don’t hide parallelisms in the prose
  23. Don’t ignore effective italics
  24. Don’t repeat without relevance
  25. Don’t assume author absolutism
  26. Don’t wrap characters in the same grammar blanket
  27. Don’t neglect grammar when mood and atmosphere change
  28. Don’t underestimate the richness of the English language
  29. Don’t be afraid to make your own rules

By the way, if you’re going to purchase this for your library, Barnes and Noble has it for $1.99 online (a/o 4/5/14).

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More writing tips from authors:

10 Tips from David Gerrold

Ten Commandments from Richard Bausch

17 Tips From Noah Lukeman





Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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21 thoughts on “29 Writing Blunders from William Noble

  1. Like you, I decided to leave the poems to others to write. Still, sometimes my dribble get poetic even when I don’t intend it to do so. “Don’t overuse the Thesaurus”? I like finding the word that says exactly what I’m trying to convey

    • I agree, Glynis. I confess, though, there are times my word selection is obtuse. My writer’s group prefers I stick with more commonly-used terms. I don’t know how I feel about that.

  2. My favorite is #29. Some would say it’s best to learn the rest before you attempt #29 but..(a).I either need a poster to constantly remind me or (b) to just listen to the voice in my head and hope someone can enjoy it as it arrives.

  3. Reblogged this on Getting Traction and commented:
    For us writers, there are always tools, rules and schools for improving our craft. They help us shape our imagination and creativity into something compelling and entertaining for our readers.

    Here’s a post from my friend Jacqui, who creates a great blog with all those tips and more for writers. Thanks, Jacqui!

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