If It Sounds Like Writing

written by Melissa Connolly

I came across Elmore Leonard’s Ten Tips for Writing a week or so ago, as I tend to come across most things these days – on my Facebook feed – while I was struggling with something in my own writing.

It so happens that at the same time I was struggling, I was in the middle of reading a National Book Award finalist novel, well-regarded, much-loved. But I was having a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. I disliked the characters and resented the time I spent with them. And still I was struck and as a writer jealous of the craftsmanship of the writing, almost precious in its verbosity, the painterly effect of the action, the unique metaphorical descriptions, that forced me to admire the writer.

And I thought…my writing’s not like that. Maybe I need to spend some time sticking some good metaphors and poetic lines in my narrative. Stuffing some preciosity between lines of unadorned lines of dialogue. No one will read my straightforward prose and sarcastic dialogue! I wasn’t thinking straight, having a bit of a panic attack, frankly, thinking of how long it would take to be that poetic, that layered with language, that uniquely beautiful.

Even as I resented reading it.

You see the absurdity of this already, yes?

And that’s when I ran across Elmore Leonard’s ten tips. Now who knows if these are really Leonard’s tips or some warmed-over Internet fable. But it was the last and most important rule that put my panic attack to rest.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

I’m not so bold that I still don’t need permission. So I’m grateful for to get it from wherever it comes. And thank you, Elmore Leonard, wherever your soul may rest.



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