Will bad writing habits will be your downfall?
That is, if you don’t fix them.
And I’m not talking about the weird writing habits … like the one where Dan Brown, famous author of Da Vinci Code, hangs upside down to cure his writer’s block.
After working as an editor for many years, I’ve seen plenty of bad writing habits consistently used by clients. Of course, I fix them with joy, because it’s my job.
When I notice recurring bad writing habits, I think about making these errors myself. I also think of the bad writing habits I’ve kicked over the years.
If I was still playing in the murky waters of bad writing habits, I probably wouldn’t have the job I do. It’s important to correct your bad writing habits before they render you unemployable as a writer or editor.
Below I’ve compiled a list of bad writing habits that should be on your radar. They’re issues I’ve seen time and time again, and suggest correcting if you’re making these same mistakes.
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12 bad writing habits to fix today
- Avoiding an outline – If you start writing without an outline, there’s a good chance you’ll forget points you want to make. Been there, done that. Take my advice and use an outline or a list when possible.
- Procrastination – It’s really easy to procrastinate, especially when living in your mind as a writer. To avoid procrastination, work a week ahead. At least on this schedule you’ll have a little room if you procrastinate. Working a week in advance will assure you don’t get to scenarios where you have to write and publish the same day – this added stress leads to low-quality, rushed content.
- Editing before finishing your first draft – Write freely, find your flow, and wait until your entire first draft is done before putting your editor hat on.
- Not writing every day – The more you write, the easier it becomes. The more you write, the faster you’ll get at completing articles. Blank pages won’t scare you, as practice will make you better and better. Keep going, putting those words to paper (or digital paper) to stay on top of your game.
- Being too verbose – Just because you know a lot of words, it doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Once in a while, practice the art of being succinct, especially if you’re writing for the web. Let your readers decide what they prefer.
- Not knowing your audience – If you’re a ghostwriter or ghostblogger, know the voice of who you’re writing for and the audience you’re writing to. If you don’t research and interview the main players, you’ll have a hard time holding down a gig.
- Plagiarizing – You can’t use other people’s words and try to pass them off as your own. This should be obvious, but hey, people still do it, so it’s worth mentioning. If you’re going to use words of research from another, be sure to cite the source. Also, read our Ballad of Jerry the Jerk.
- Using slang – Slang might work for very specific audiences. It may also fail horribly. Use language everyone can understand that makes you look intelligent. Your goal is to come off as a respected voice; this can be hard to achieve if slang is frequently used.
- Not finding your voice – Who are you? What do you have to say? Here’s your chance to say what needs to be said, in an interesting, respected, informative manner. Every great artist has a recognizable style, and yours is your voice.
- Not having a Thesaurus handy – Your word choice should be like a beautiful bouquet of flowers – full of color and variety. If synonyms and antonyms aren’t your strong suit, keep a Thesaurus handy. (Or at least Thesaurus.com or Grammarly.)
- Over-quoting – Except in circumstances where it’s necessary, quoting other experts tells readers you’re not confident in your own expertise. If you fill up the page with “and so-and-so agrees with me” quotes, you become a reporter, rather than the expert.
- Quitting – It’s easy to quit writing an article, a book, or a research paper. We’ve all done it at some point. However, when we choose to quit, we lose a little bit of that spark that got us interested in using the written word in the first place. So … don’t quit! You’ll feel so much joy once you’ve come to the place of wanting to quit, and still going on until you finish. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Don’t sweat it if you currently execute on one of these bad writing habits. Be aware of it, embrace it, and change the habit today!
Isaac Newton re-wrote Chronology fifteen times. Fifteen. Great writers still make mistakes. And sometimes it takes a lot of work to right wrongs and fix habits. Similarly, a lot of effort is sometimes necessary to create masterpieces.
If you need help breaking a bad writing habit, you could always use a reminder or an energetic ally of sorts. Courtney of Tin House keeps a plastic rhinosaurus on her desk to keep passive aggressive emails away from her.
I keep a piece of heliolite in my pocket to ward away the desire to procrastinate. We all need a little help sometime, don’t be afraid to channel the positive vibes from somewhere, if needed.
Start with this list above and determine if you’re engaging in any of these bad writing habits. If so, work on fixing them today. If not, well, perhaps you’re the next literary genius the world is looking for. Happy writing!