bad writing
Writing Craft

Bad Writing Habits to Eliminate Now

Halloween is a good time to let bad habits die

As a fantasy writer, I love all things magical, and recently I have turned that attention into researching Wiccan beliefs. (This is a purely scholarly pursuit, I promise.) One of the major Wiccan holidays is Samhain which is also known as Halloween. (I should note that some Wiccans make the distinction between Halloween and the true cross quarter day of Samhain, which usually falls around November 6-7.) Many of the familiar Halloween customs can be traced back to pagan fall festivals.
If you’ll forgive my getting personal, I love Halloween, and not just because it’s the one holiday that’s all fun with no pesky visiting family obligations. Halloween is the one time of year where even us muggles can imagine a certain charge in the air.

But how does this all relate to writing?

One of the major themes around Samhain is death. This can be seen not only in the skeletons and ghosts decorating homes and businesses, but also in nature. Plants have begun dying back, leaves are dropping, and many insects will soon perish in the coming frosts.

Drawing from this theme, many Wiccans consider this time of year an ideal time to reflect on their own lives to identify personal traits or habits that they wish would die as well.

In the spirit of Samhain, here is a list of bad writing habits. If any of these are holding you back, make an effort to let them go.

Comparing yourself to other writers
There will always be someone better than you, that doesn’t mean you are a bad writer. Constantly comparing yourself to others will stifle your creativity and paralyze you. It will also make you feel as if you are never going to be good enough. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is you. Make your goal to be better than you were yesterday.

Butt in seat. I know the pantry needs organizing. I know you need to check you stats, your Twitter followers, your… whatever, but you can’t publish what you didn’t write. And the only way to get it written is to stop procrastinating and get it done.

Waiting for inspiration
This isn’t exactly the same as procrastinating. The simple truth is that writing isn’t sitting around waiting for your muse. Muses show up when you are actually working. So get your pretty pens and fancy notebooks (I know you have them.) and actually brainstorm. Get into the habit of thinking about stories. If you have 10 ideas and 9 of them are complete crap, then you still have one good idea. And one good idea is all you need to get started.

Editing while drafting
As an editor, I must insist that you DO NOT try to edit your stories as you are drafting them. Drafting and editing take two different parts of the brain. Don’t stifle your creativity by stopping your workflow to fret about commas or restructure sentences. Especially since I (or another editor) may tell you later to delete the entire scene. Editing while you are drafting is a complete waste of time. And it’s keeping you from achieving your goal: a completed draft.

Editing in the wrong order
Books are really written during the editing cycle, but if you do your edits in the wrong order you will be wasting countless hours. There is no reason to worry about punctuation in a sentence that will need to be reworded. There is no need to worry about paragraphs in a scene that will need to be cut. Make sure you are doing your edits in the right order.

Not promoting yourself or your work
If you aren’t promoting your work, you won’t get anywhere as a writer. You don’t have to be everywhere, but pick somewhere to start. Right now, I focus on connecting with writers on Twitter, promoting my blog on Pinterest, and I have an ad for my book on Amazon. Without these, I would have few “writer” friends, no blog traffic, and almost no book sales. Yes these things take time, and yes they eat into my profits, but 100% of zero is zero.

Bashing other writers/editors/agents on social media
You’re allowed to not like something, but loudly proclaiming how awful the writing is on the latest bestseller just makes you look petty. The same goes for slamming the judges of a writing contest. Also whining about agenting process isn’t going to win you any friends.

Abusing “nice” agents/editors
Most agents and editors are truly nice people and many have a hard time saying “no.” If an agent or editor has been nice enough to give you a few suggestions, don’t badger them with endless revisions. Looking at your pages costs them time, which translates into time they are not spending on “paying clients.” Nearly everyone in publishing is on a strict budget. Don’t expect professionals to do work for you for free.

This is just a short list, but I hope it gives you a place to start. Anytime of year is a good time to give up bad habits, so even if this time of is more about parties and candy than recognizing the cycles of nature, you can still make a promise to yourself to eliminate the bad habits that are holding you back and give your writing the attention that it deserves.

Happy Halloween and Happy Writing

Have a bad writing habit you want to eliminate? Share it in the comments.

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M.L. Keller is a freelance writer and editor. Her blog "The Manuscript Shredder" is focused on helping emerging writers hone their craft.


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