I was a young researcher giving my first talk. Mycoplasma DNA mapping, I think it was. The head of the center stopped by the lab a week before and gave me this nugget: tell them what you’re going to talk about, talk about it, then tell them what you talked about.
I ran this past our head researcher the next day who said something peppered with a lot of Irish swear words about how stupid the head was and how his advice is the very best and easiest way to A) put your audience to sleep, B) bore everyone to death by the second line, and C) make sure you never get another grant in your entire life.
He straightened me out by telling me to talk like I do all day in the lab, but to slow down so we can all understand you. A few people will ask questions. Most who ask anything are genuinely interested and are glad you’re presenting. A few are just asses and take joy in tripping you up.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Everyone will know they’re complete idiots. Except maybe for themselves.”
I tell you this as general writing advice. I’ve mostly given up on most of the writing rules, most of the time. I am an unashamed fan of the Oxford comma, the em dash…and the ellipsis. I use them knowingly in all the wrong places, all the time.
There is a time to use rules, to stick to them like glue. It helps then to know what they are. My daughter is writing an application essay now for exactly the kind of people who follow rules and expect everyone else to act as they do. But, for writers, my most general and oft-given advice is to write lots. When you’re done? Write lots more again. When you’re done with that? Well, you get the picture. Buy another notebook or seventeen and fill them up this weekend. Almost every writing question you have dissipates with this onslaught of putting pen to page. Or, more succinctly, you can use Ted Nugent’s advice for playing guitar…play until your fingers bleed.