Diana Kimpton  author
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Turn off your inner teacher

picture of someone writingOur school teachers laid the foundation for our writing success. They taught us that sentences start with capital letters and end with full stops. They taught us what question marks are for and how to put quote marks around direct speech. All these skills are invaluable, but not everything we learned at school is quite as useful to an author.

The way our education system works makes English teachers concentrate on the type of writing that helps you pass exams. I expect yours loved it if you used a more complicated word instead of a simple one and got worked up about the names for all the different types of clause. Even when they asked you to write a story, they were often more interested in whether you’d used enough semi-colons than on whether the pacing held the reader’s attention.

Adjectives and adverbs are the subject of many lessons, and I expect your teachers encouraged you to use as many as you could. I even read one English textbook where they claimed every noun should be accompanied by at least one adjective. Interestingly they didn’t follow this rule themselves, and they showed examples that didn’t follow it either.

If you disliked English at school as much as I did, you’ll be pleased to know that many of the rules you learned there don’t apply in the real world, especially when you’re writing fiction. If you don’t understand semi-colons, you don’t have to use them. Adjectives and adverbs are more effective if used sparingly, and it’s really not important what the clauses are called. All that matters is the way that you use them.

The longer you’ve studied, the more rules you’ll have absorbed - maybe without realizing it. If you’ve spent years writing serious essays and reports, you’ll probably have developed a writing style that’s informative but dull and lacking in emotion. That's definitely not going work well for fiction so you'll need to develop a new way with words in order to please the readers of your novel.

However, all those years of drilling don’t disappear easily. That’s why, somewhere inside your head, you’ve probably got an inner teacher waiting to remind you of those rules. Mine taps me on the shoulder if I write nice and whispers, “There are so many better words you could be using.” She also says “Never start a sentence with but." But, as you can see, I no longer take any notice.

Whether you gave up English at the earliest opportunity or you studied the subject at university and beyond, your inner teacher can be a barrier to your success with fiction. So follow my example and learn to ignore that niggling voice - except, of course, when you agree with it. (There really are lots of better words than nice.)


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