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Bob Nailor




Bad Writing Habits

I have them. You have then. In fact, everyone has them and they're not the cooties. You're a writer and you're not going to like this, but you have bad writing habits. If you don't, you're only fooling yourself. I know I have some bad habits - at least regarding writing. Otherwise, I'm perfect, just ask my wife. LOL.

Let me preface with "I've learned to correct a multitude of my writing sins over the years yet, there are still more."

In the beginning, back in the 1980s, I was known as Mr. Dash Ellipses to my editor. At least, that was "one" nickname she had for me. She was constantly dinging me for the my over usage of dashes () and those aggravating ellipsis () in my writing. My characters were constantly ending their conversations mid-sentence, or they were incessantly being cut off by another speaker. It was my feeble attempt to write "real" dialog. As I learned, "real" conversations in writing don't always mimic life. It is better to let your characters finish their sentences.

Now that I am an editor for several upcoming authors, I see other bad habits that I may have had. These are habits that I attempt to correct with my clients.

Let me tell you about Ms. Suddenly who constantly needed to express surprise with "Suddenly, this happened" or "Suddenly, that happened." In one chapter of her manuscript, approximately five pages, Ms. Suddenly used the term a total of thirty-six times. I will not reveal in any way how many occurrences of the term existed in the full work. Let me say, the word "suddenly" disappeared from the work in drastic numbers.

Of course, Mr. Mystery wrote fantasy but kept his readers in the dark from chapter to chapter as to who he was writing about. There were three main characters and each chapter was in one of the three's POV. Sometimes consecutive chapters could be the same character. Imagine reading three to five paragraphs THEN discover who the POV character is. It was a simple editorial fix, but it was a bad habit not only for this particular writer, but by some of the books I've read, it is a bad habit for many other authors, too. My rule-of-thumb is simple: Mention the POV character's name in the first sentence, or at least the first paragraph of each chapter.

One of my bad habits, again, brought to my attention by my editor, was an annoying tick I had graced my character with. I would have her constantly tapping her lower lip with her index finger while in deep thought. I thought it a great way to make this character believable and stand out in a reader's mind. It did, but because I repeated the action so often, it became nauseating to the reader. Two of my beta-readers commented, not to mention my editor at that time. I trimmed my story to eliminate many of the ticks and once I'd established the tick, only mentioned it to let the reader know she was thinking.

Another bad habit by several writers is that of gazing or nodding by their characters. Yes, even I fell into that trap. I had a group of six sitting around a fire. They were all gazing at it. One character made a comment, and yes, all of the characters nodded their heads. As one beta-reader commented I felt I was in a toy store aisle where all the bobble-head dolls had been released from their boxes as you described each character's reaction while it nodded. I mentioned gazing. In regard to it, my characters were constantly gazing they gazed in the distance, they gazed at the forest, they gazed at each other. The beta-reader comment was "I gaze, you gaze, he, she or it gazes. We all gag."

I corrected those passages by searching for "gaze," and "nod" in the manuscript with a strong editorial hand to eliminate the bobble-heading and hypnotic gazing.

Lest I forget, there was Mr. As-if who obviously used that particular phrase too often. (Note: Another nickname I also incurred.) Everything in the novel was constantly "As if..." which I informed him, as I had been informed: "Either it is or it isn't. If it is, then say it is, not as if." By removing the offending "as if" from his novel, the story actually became much stronger and better.

So how have I eliminated some of my bad writing habits? I have a list of those items which I feel are detrimental to my writing. The list is too long to include here but when I have finished my editing and think it is ready for others to read that is when I open the list and look for the offending possibilities. Yes, I search for such things as:

suddenly
as if
gaze, gazing
said
that
very
ellipses
dashes

And I also have a program which checks for the number of incidences a word appears. Overuse of a word can be just as daunting to a reader.

He stared at the vase. He knew the vase was supposed to be antique but the vase appeared too new. He touched the vase and realized the paint was tacky. No vase should have wet paint, especially an antique vase. The vase was obviously a fake. In no way would he insure the vase.

Yeah, vase got a little overused.

Do you have a bad habit? Care to share what it is?




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~ COMMENTS ~

Elyse Salpeter
2015-07-06
Ha, yes! My bad habit is "racing." My characters are always "racing" all over the place. My editor is constantly getting on me for that. Fun post.
~ Reply to this comment ~

Bob Nailor
2015-07-06
Oh, I was a racer, too. In fact, I fell accomplice to almost every possible scenario of bad writing. The joke was, my editor had to order her ink (blood) in 55 gal barrels to edit me.
~ Reply to this comment ~

Tara
2015-07-06
Every time a bad habit is brought to my attention I practice breaking it in my writing. I have more than I like to admit but always seek to improve.
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Bob Nailor
2015-07-06
Only through serious application of not making the error will you learn and grow. Good for you.
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Scott Bury
2015-07-06
I never notice these bad habits before someone else points them out, except maybe after several years have passed and I've, hopefully, improved as a writer. I now notice how often I use exclamation marks in dialog. Sure, it was intentional - people in stressful situations tend to exclaim more. But too many exclamation points become distracting.
~ Reply to this comment ~

Bob Nailor
2015-07-06
Holy Exclamation Mark, Batman!!! I edited a person who, I kid you not, put 23 exclamations at the end of a sentence. They wanted to make sure the reader understood the person was truly surprised. Of course, a 4 line "Argh" was a little over-the-top, too. Yes, the writer had expanded the word to 4 full sentences and had the nerve to put the 23 exclamations at the end... not part of the four-line "argh." LOL.
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Diane Rapp
2015-07-06
I read my own WIP on my kindle and notice these types of errors more than when I read it on the computer. Its smart to do a word search on favorite words and phrases, and then eliminate or substitute a better word. I'm working on another novel, so I must drag out my own long list. Appreciate the reminder.
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Bob Nailor
2015-07-06
I have found that printing out the WIP for a final edit really does show more errors. I agree, I don't know why they don't show up easily on the computer screen. Keep the list current.
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Charles Dougherty
2015-07-06
Good post, Bob, and good advice.

I, too, have a list of words that I overuse. I search my manuscripts for them, and I use a couple of software packages to look for frequency of use. The problem is that when I stamp out one overused word, another tends to creep in. There's no substitute for a human editor with a sharp red pencil.
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Bob Nailor
2015-07-06
Thanks for the kudos. I can't agree with you more whole-heartedly. The trick is to vary word usage as much as possible and then let a real human at it.
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Lisa Jey Davis
2015-07-07
I already know my bad habits. They're the ellipses "..." because that is the only way to get the type of pause I'm looking for in my writing, So THERE. I also randomly capitalize words for emphasis. I blame the texting generation. It's a thing. I also use a lot of cliche's but that's because I speak in cliches, and I write non-fiction. So it's really my "voice". Great post Bob!
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James Prescott
2015-07-10
Ooh, bad habits...hmmm. Editing too much whilst writing?
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Bob Nailor
2015-07-10
LOL. That, James, could be considered a bad habit. I know some people who have to continually edit, re-edit, and re-re-edit their work as they go. Sometimes it is better to just write and then come back to edit.
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Kenna McKinnon
2015-07-10
We all have bad habits but some are typical of laziness, I think, and not checking one's work or reading it over carefully enough. I feel sorry for the editor who receives a copy like that, and I don't blame publishers for not accepting stories that have not been properly edited.
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Bob Nailor
2015-07-10
At one time, writers depended on the publisher to be the editor, but in today's society, that is not the case. Writers really need to have their work properly edited. Thanks for the comment.
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