There are lots of synonyms for the word ‘said’. I’ve been told by various people who have taken writing courses that I don’t use enough of them, or that I use them incorrectly – one person told me that I use the word ‘said’ too often, another told me that I used the word ‘asked’ redundantly, as in “Where is the butter?” asked Margaret.

This is one of the many reasons I will never envy people who have taken writing courses – they become fixated on looking for errors that don’t really exist unless you think they’re errors. The word ‘said’ is a small, insignificant word, like ‘the’. People don’t see it unless they’re looking deliberately looking for it, and only then are they likely to see it too often. The tautology of someone ‘asking’ something after a sentence ending with a question mark is also invisible to anyone who isn’t deliberately looking to criticise it.

The way I see it, no one is perfect – everyone needs to prioritise. If you’re too focussed on pointless little issues involving very small words, then you’re probably forgetting that there are much more important things in writing, like not sounding like a prat. Substituting the word ‘said’ at every opportunity with a different synonym throughout an entire story just to avoid using the word ‘said’ is sounding exactly like a prat. I noticed that Joseph Heller used the word ‘mellifluously’ twice in Catch-22 but that’s only because I was looking for it – it would never have appeared so repetitive to me if it hadn’t been on my top 10 most notable words list. ‘Said’ doesn’t even register.

Anyway, so that’s why I always take criticism with a very heavy dose of salt, or even just ignore it altogether. There’s the way I put fullstops at the end of subject lines, for example. I’ve been told it’s ‘wrong’. I don’t see how it makes a difference.

Things important to me are: not sounding like a prat, not sounding like I’m following a formula or have read a book on how to write books, not sounding like I’ve taken a writing course and not sounding like I’m trying to emulate my favourite writers. If I allow anyone to encroach upon these priorities with their own learned fixations (picked up from writing courses run by people driven by a profit motive who have to justify their existence by dispensing any and all advice they can think of) I’d be taking a huge step backwards as a writer.

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