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The Road to Hell

Think of the person, preferably your child or your parent, who has a certain trait or habit that frustrates or annoys the heck out of you. Our nine year-old D ³comes quickly to my mind.

D³ is very tenacious. When she was three, she’d leaf through a book, typically something thick, such as The Grapes of Wrath, put it down and announce that she’d read it all. And she believed it. Try teaching a child to read who insists she’s a proficient reader.

Now it’s the guitar. She insists she knows how to play. Her uncle offered to teach her and she graciously accepted the offer (although she already knows how). He supplied her with a small electric guitar, amplifier, stand, books, cds. For the first two days, she loved it. I heard her playing improve. Soon practicing became monotonous and she decided she didn’t need lessons.

Which of her parents supplied her with the “I know how to do everything” chromosome? I was sure it came from her paternal genes— until I started reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and the true source became obvious. Damn if she didn’t get her most annoying trait from me.

My husband is a great fan of self-help books. He’s always recommending them to me. I smile and say, “I don’t have time right now. But someday…” Because I hate them. They’re dry, and boring, and there’s nothing in them I need to know. Besides, how do I know the person writing them isn’t some crackpot who made everything up. The “I know how to do everything” chromosome was in me, hidden beneath the  hubris.

I’ve never read any books about writing for those same reasons. Books about writing don’t fall into the how-to category. Writing is too subjective to be classed with the more straightforward how-to sew or how-to install a carburetor books. I have a talent for writing and I didn’t want some self-proclaimed expert to mess up my style, to make me question my ability, or to make me so paranoid that I’d question every word I wrote.

Consequently, I taught myself to concentrate on what I deemed the most important aspects of writing:

  • Description— Lots of it, using adjectives and adverbs galore.
  • Complication— Simple is too easy; complicated is more literary.
  • Details— Describe important details minutely, so the reader can imagine precisely what the writer imagines.
  • Active versus passive verb– who cares.
  • Grammar— I did well in English classes; I know enough.

I started reading other writer’s blogs. They were  filled with advice, tips and information. I was unwittingly learning about the craft.  Then I began seeing these phrases:

“The adverb is not your friend”

Huh? Yes, he is. He’s my wonderfully, superbly helpful friend.

Or:

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

As for adverbs and hell, there is absolutely, positively no way my trusted go-to friend, the little adverb, would willingly, knowingly lead me there. But evidence against the adverb piled up, leading me to read Stephen King’s masterpiece, On Writing. I’ve learned many things. Not only do adverbs lead to hell, but every one of my self-proclaimed rules is suicide for a writer.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step in overcoming it—  I admit, I don’t know everything about writing. In fact, what I don’t know far outweighs what I do know about it. But I’m willing to learn and my writing will improve, despite using the occasional adverb (“…to write adverbs is human.”- Stephen King).

I hope it doesn’t take D³ as long to overcome the “I know how to do everything” chromosome.

I’m sure I’m not alone. Is it possible you and the person you thought of at the beginning of this post share the same annoying trait?

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10 comments on “The Road to Hell

  1. I read that book by S King, found it pretty entertaining!!
    Keep writing Dawne!!

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  2. Thanks, Margaret.

    I’m loving the S. King book; I’ll be quoting it for months.
    And I’ll keep writing, because I can’t stop 😉

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  3. I’ve always thought the failings we find most irritating in others are the ones we find out we have ourselves. I’m not a fan of self help books either if thats any consolation. I enjoyed this post and could go on talking about it for ages with you but thats not really possible on here so I’ll just thank you for getting my mind whirring and vanish into the ether

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    • I’ve always pretended I didn’t have the traits that annoyed me in others, until now. With age comes wisdom (better late than never).

      I’m glad you stopped by. I always enjoy your comments.

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  4. Oh I have one of those at home. She isn’t so much as “I know everything” but it’s the pouting of the lip when you point out she was wrong, and the slight hint of a temper tantrum. I am sooooooooo afraid of the teenage years.

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    • Ah yes, teenage years. I’ve been so busy living through other teenagers, I forgot that “I know everything” will be one soon. It’s a scary thought.

      You can only hope that “Slight hint of a temper tantrum” will outgrow it before her adolescence. 😉

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  5. Well, I’m 21, but I’m fully (haha) aware that I know nothing. And I will live on and still not know things. Writing-wise, well, I’ve had to rewrite my novel a gazillion times because I have learned new things in college that better my writing.

    When I first began reading, I was like “Aww…no adverbs?” Now I’m like…”Darn you adverbs!”

    Still learning. haha.

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    • Hi Ashely,

      I’m much older than you and am still astounded by how much I think I know, only to find I don’t know much at all. Well, I do know a lot about self-tanners 😉

      I felt the same way about those cute little adverbs, but the more I write, the more I understand the reasons.

      Hope your book and query (those are a lot less fun, aren’t they?) are coming along.

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  6. Did you know your post shows up on the first page when someone runs a search for Stephen King and On Writing. That’s really cool.

    Great post, btw. 🙂

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