Back in the eighth grade, I received the most difficult yet rewarding writing advice for the first time. My English teacher told us to take firm control of our word choice, and she required every submission we turned in to obey one rule of hers in particular. Every sentence within a paragraph must start with a different word.
At first, that advice almost made me hate writing of all kinds. I spent hours going over writing assignments, figuring out how to change my sentences so I wouldn’t start them all with “The.” Doing this made my revision process turn into a small nightmare as I neurotically labored over every word I placed after a period, question mark, or exclamation point. Sometimes I’d keep paragraphs short just so I could cheat and use the same word again.
What I didn’t realize was how well this advice would serve me later on in life. Although it’s an arbitrary rule that has no grammatical or stylistic necessity, it’s an effective one that breaks many hidden crutches a writer might have. Not only that, it helped me think about how I expressed myself in a way I’d never considered before. It served as a mirror to hold up to my writing, to make sure I wasn’t being lazy.
Nowadays, I relegate this rule to a revision process. I still use it because it helps me put finishing touches on anything I publish. At the very least, it helps me put that last bit of polish on a draft, making the whole thing shine.
For people who might want to consider using it (or at least trying it out), here are some other things to remember. In longer fiction, this rule should only get used to clean up clunky passages. With shorter articles, posts, and stories, this rule really helps out in keeping things flowing. Finally, there will be times when you actually want to use the same word to begin sentences (like using a rule of three to help readers remember an important point), so it’s not something one has to slavishly adhere to at all times.