None of us are perfect. I, like you, am still learning and growing as a writer. The first step to overcoming our bad writing habits is to admit we have them, and how we want to start getting rid of them. I wanted to share my worst writing habits with you, in hopes it will get you thinking about tackling yours.
I tend to get unnecessarily wordy
Describing something in as few words as possible is easier during editing, which is why I don’t get much practice improving on this. I don’t self-edit that often. Going back and reading something one sentence at a time makes you realize, “Oh, I could have just used one word there instead of three.”
Thankfully I have had editors in the past who have taught me how to trim my pieces down further than I would have felt comfortable doing on my own. Many of the words you use in your prose don’t actually need to be there. And don’t do what I did in high school, which was describe things in detail for the sake of describing things in detail. If they aren’t significant, touch on them briefly, then leave them alone.
I frequently, obsessively use far too many adjectives
So much so that you’ve probably noticed. I don’t know where I picked up this bad habit and I am doing the best I can to at least train myself to notice when I’m overdoing it. Adjectives are great. They are pretty and help you paint that word picture. But you can go overboard, and I do. All the time.
The more time I spend writing, the more I learn to use simpler language. Many times, just one adjective will do. And other times, adjectives aren’t even necessary. Did Lucy’s face turn hot like fire? Or did she slam the refrigerator door so hard a few magnets fell off (because she was angry?). Verbs are always more powerful than adjectives.
Many of my characters are too similar
I’ve known this has been an issue for awhile, and I am slowly getting better at diversifying personalities, behaviors and other characteristics. My favorite thing to do, to test myself, is to create a character that is as different from me in every way imaginable.
We base many of our characters off of ourselves – we know ourselves best, after all. But in reality, we’re not that interesting. Rather, the things that happen to us on a daily basis usually aren’t. I try to think of someone random I have encountered in the past, whose behavior somehow stood out to me enough to remember back that far, and exaggerate that. It takes practice.
My themes are either extremely light or extremely dark: there is no in-between
I have no idea why this is. I think sometimes I’m still hesitant to go “too dark” with some stories, which is normal. Yet when themes air on the light side, they’re almost too happy. I would much rather write an even balance of stories that have all kinds of themes, whether extreme in either direction or somewhere settled in-between.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be overdramatic to tell a good story. A good story needs a healthy dose of drama, but you don’t have to kill off your MC’s entire family to move the story forward. I mean, you can, and I’ve probably done that or something like it before. But it’s not always necessary.
I get too caught up in quantity
I think we all do every now and then. We are given a specific word requirement or we set numeric goals, and our focus shifts a little too far in the wrong direction. All we need is 200 more words. So we throw in extra words and phrases we wouldn’t normally use just to boost our WC.
I’m guilty of it more often than I should be. I’m going to start hiding word counters from myself or try using a plain text app to see if that helps me ease off the quantity focus a little bit. I can tell mid-assignment when the quality of my work starts to plummet. I do not like that feeling.
Do you have any bad writing habits? How are you working to overcome them? If you have no clue how – how can I help?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.
Image courtesy of Flickr.