There are at least four ways writing can improve your life in 2014. And while it is important to implement a daily writing practice to kick-start the process, it’s even more important to make sure you’re not reinforcing bad habits. Here are eight bad habits to break in your writing that will help you to improve the quality—not just the quantity—of your work:
Too Many Adverbs
Adverbs have a bad reputation, but they serve an important purpose in your writing. As Maddie Crum, the Books Editor for The Huffington Post explains, “The idea that adverbs are just extraneous fluff has led to a smear campaign against them, and it's become common to suggest axing the part of speech altogether in order to make writing more powerful.” However, an over-reliance on adverbs—specifically –ly adverbs like quickly—to do the heavy lifting leads to wordy, weak prose. If you find a lot of bland verbs bolstered up by adverbs in your writing, replace them with bolder actions instead.
Intensifiers are really, totally, incredibly annoying when used to excessive. We’re just going to come out and say it: they make you sound like a parody of a teenage girl. Intensifiers like very or really add little to a description, and like the –ly adverbs we recommended cutting, these adverbs of degree should be replaced with a more descriptive adjective. Instead of really big, try huge, gargantuan, enormous, or massive.
The Creeping “That”
That is one of the most overused words in the English language. Freelance Writer Lori Widmer confesses, “My most-overused word is ‘that.’ Whenever I finish writing, I search the document for all instances. Then, I remove as many as I can without losing the meaning. What's your favorite word? Pay attention to your writing. You'll see it.”
We all want to be seen as clever and insightful writers. Unfortunately, the best way to sound stupid is by trying to sound smart. Blogger Jeff Goins recommends writing honestly. “What you must absolutely avoid is phoniness,” he advises. “The best way to do that is to stop using words and phrases you read in a novel once and still don’t understand what they mean. It will sound contrived, and you will probably misuse them.
As writers, we often have little tics and quirks that make our work unique. When those quirks dominate your style, however, they become a problem. Starting sentences with conjunctions, using fragments for impact, and incorporating lots of dashes or ellipses are fine in small doses, but be wary of relying on them too much. “It’s like noticing that a speaker says ‘um’ a lot – and once you’re fixated on that, you stop listening to the important things he has to say,” says Writer Suzanne Richardson.
Failing to Proofread
Spell check doesn’t catch everything, especially when it comes to contextual spelling errors. Before you send any piece of writing into the world, whether it’s an email or a novel, you should proofread it carefully. Grammarly’s automated proofreader makes the nitpicky task a lot easier, so there’s no excuse to skip this step.
Waiting for the Muse
In his book On Writing, Stephen King wrote, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” The worst habit you can develop as a writer is procrastination. You might justify it as writer’s block or a lack of time, but making excuses takes just as much effort—if not more—than putting new words on the page.
What’s your worst writing habit? Share it in the comments!