Good writing can be as simple as breaking bad writing habits
You have a bunch of brilliant ideas to write about, so you get to your keyboard and go to work.
Whether you are writing fiction, an article, an essay or even a poem, let your fingers do the talking. Well, perhaps your pen or pencil if you are still so inclined.
When writing your first draft of anything, ideas are the most important ingredient. Readers want your thoughts, views and opinions or to be mesmerised by your imagination. So let your ideas run free.
Without first drafts, there would be nothing for people to read. But no reader should ever be subjected to having to read a writer’s first draft.
A good writer knows a draft is a draft and that it is work in progress. A poor, bad or more often, an inexperienced writer thinks the job is finished.
Great writers usually have excellent habits and a set writing process, which can be described in three words.
Create, Craft, Correct.
A first draft is a creative stage, and it is not all that important if the writing is good or bad. What matters most is the action of transferring thoughts into text.
Correction is at the end and involves checking spelling and grammar, eliminating typos and proofreading.
But in between these two stages, a fine piece of writing needs to be crafted. Every writer has their unique writing style. However, the qualities of good writing are quite uniform.
Taking a rough draft and turning it into a fantastic piece of writing involves using a variety of grammatical and lexical devices.
Examples could include syntax, word choice, voice and punctuation.
The definition of poor writing skills is the use of a very limited range of these devices. A badly written text is often repetitive in structure and vocabulary.
The effects of poor writing are that a reader can become bored, confused or frustrated.
There are many ways to improve a text, but five areas stand out as red flags.
If you can develop the habit of recognising these five issues and learn how to fix them, you will be able to craft poor writing into fantastic writing in no time at all.
1. This, that, it and there
I wanted to buy a new car. This was because mine was old. It was ten years old. There were dents in the doors. This was why I I bought a new one.
I bought a new car because mine was ten years old and full of dents in the doors.
There were over fifty people at our wedding.
More than fifty people came to celebrate our wedding.
It was after the accident that I got headaches.
My headaches started after the accident.
If one word stands out like a flashing red warning signal, it is the pronoun, this.
Whenever you see the word, try to rewrite the sentence.
Unclear antecedent pronouns, pronouns, relative pronouns and adverbs such as there, it, this, that, these and those can all interfere with clarity.
Develop the habit of looking for and replacing unnecessary linking words whenever possible.
Note. Antecedent: an earlier word, phrase, or clause to which another word (especially a following relative pronoun) refers back.
2. Clearly and obviously I am currently a writer
Stephen King’s quote about the road to hell being paved with adverbs still holds true.
She looked at him angrily.
She glared at him with her piercing green eyes full of spite and anger.
Fortunately, I have plenty of time to write.
I am so fortunate to have plenty of time to write.
Use adverbs sparingly.
Adverbs are quick and easy to use. But they should only be used when necessary. You can replace adverbs in most circumstances with far more descriptive language.
If you spot an adverb, try to kill it, quickly.
3. Repeat, repeat, repeat and delete
Our wedding day passed quickly.
My daughter screams loudly.
The soprano sang beautifully.
Our wedding day was over before we knew it.
You wouldn’t believe how loud my daughter can scream.
I loved how beautifully the soprano sang.
The syntax of the first three phrases is subject-verb-adverb. A few small changes and you can change the syntax of sentences.
Just as I got home, the phone rang. Just my luck; it was my mother-in-law. She told me that she had just got some bad news about her cat at the vet.
As soon as I got home, the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law worse luck. She went on about what the vet had told her about her cat earlier that afternoon.
Repetition is boring. Always look for alternatives by varying your syntax and using synonyms to replace weak and repeated words.
All writers have tic words and phrases. Get to know yours and eliminate as many as possible.
4. The passive was eliminated
The passive voice is almost always the wrong choice. Please have it removed.
My iPhone was stolen.
Someone stole my iPhone.
I got my car serviced last week.
The garage serviced my car last week.
Our meal wasn’t served until nine-thirty!
The restaurant didn’t serve our meal until nine-thirty!
I had my essay checked by a proofreader.
A proofreader checked my essay.
The passive voice and causative can usually be changed to the active voice without much effort. Using active sentences gives more information and is always more interesting to read.
You need to remove the passive, rather than it being removed.
5. Chop, chop, chop.
Long sentences that fill a page or a screen can have the negative effect of boring a reader to death and having them turn the page in the shortest time you could possibly imagine because they get confused and can’t understand what it is that you are trying to explain or say about your acumen at pruning roses.
Keep your sentences short. Readers will find it much easier to understand you. If you see a long sentence, chop it into pieces.
Also, avoid big chunky paragraphs and watch out for run-on sentences.
Short really is sweet, especially for online writing.
The difference between bad writers and bad writing, and good writers and great writing is the understanding that writing is a craft.
Any good writer takes the time to craft a piece of writing after the first draft. It might take two or three more drafts to perfect a text, but it is well worth the effort.
It doesn’t matter is it is fiction writing, blog posts and articles, marketing materials or a school essay. Crafting makes all the difference.
Once you have finished, then is it time to correct and have someone else proofread it carefully for you.
For many people, writing seems so easy. The truth is that it is not.
But it can be made easier by recognising the danger signals and rectifying them.
If you can create a new habit of checking for the five common writing problems I have outlined, you will be able to consistently produce a good piece of writing.
1. Watch out for this!
2. Adverbs, obviously.
3. Don’t repeat it, it, it
4. Active is always better
5. Chop it down.
Now you can write and craft your writing with confidence.