Breaking Common Bad Habits in Writing

My first attempt at writing a novel wasn’t as successful as I imagined it would be. I was confident in my concept, and when I described how my novel unfolded, I received an overwhelming show of support and interest from other writers and readers in my community. But as I sat at my laptop describing the events my imagination had concocted, I noticed an unfortunate problem. I was a mediocre writer. My prose suffered from several bad writing habits. After climbing out of the pit of despair with a renewed sense of determination, I decided to break them.

Every writer has a few bad habits. One of the easiest ways to improve your writing is to identify and correct the bad habits that impede your readers’ ability to see the heart of your story. Writing is just like basketball or singing; you have to put in the hours to hone your craft. However, there are some simple things you can do polish up your prose.

Here are three tips to help you break free of a few common bad habits:

  • 1.Let’s talk about redundancies. Sometimes repetition is important and helps create a beautiful cadence. Other times, it’s just distracting. Every word should add meaning to the content of your narrative. Example: He was in a difficult dilemma. Dilemmas are difficult, so saying his dilemma was difficult is redundant. If you don’t want to edit out the word difficult, try changing it to a word that would bring more meaning to the dilemma, like comical or deadly. Dilemmas are all difficult but that isn’t all that defines them. (For more help with redundancies, check out this article from Daily Writing Tips.)
  • 2.Editing out overused words. For many, unnecessary words are bogging down their writing—words that in many situations, can be deleted. I personally used the word that so often in my prose that it seemed if I deleted them all, I would lose a quarter of my word count. But they didn’t add anything to the content of the story. Editing out the unnecessary words and phrases like that, very, and kind of will smooth out your prose and make your writing more concise. (For more examples of overused words, check out these tips from Lara Willard.)
  • 3.Commonly-used phrases you need to let rest in peace. We’ve all heard the phrase needless to say, which is a bizarre foretelling because it’s always followed by a needless statement. What does this phrase add to your content? I love a well-used cliche, but usually, they are simply cliche. Commonly-used phrases rob your writing of its depth. (Here is a great article to read on cliches from the University of North Carolina.)
  • I hope you find these tips helpful. I know it can be excruciating to spend months and years of your life pounding away at your keyboard, pouring all of your creativity into a genuine work of art (aka, your baby), only to have it ripped apart by editors like me, who are focused more on your voice than content. But it’s necessary. Editors are a writer’s best friend and often your biggest fan. Try every suggestion an editor gives you. Even if you change it back, you will have learned something from the experience.

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