Good writing can be as simple as breaking your bad writing habits
You have a lot of brilliant ideas to write about. So you get to your keyboard and go to work and start writing.
Well, perhaps your typewriter, pen or pencil if you are still so inclined.
Whether you are writing fiction, an article, an essay or even a poem, let your fingers do the talking, because writers write.
With any kind of writing, your first draft of any text is about ideas. They 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 reading a writer’s first draft.
A good writer knows a draft is a draft and that it is still a piece of work in progress. Poor, inexperienced or bad writers think that the job is finished after the first draft.
Great writers know there is still a lot of work to be done. They also have excellent habits and a strict and set writing process, which can be described in three words.
Create, Craft, Correct.
The first draft is the creative writing stage.
It doesn’t matter if you are writing a book, a short story or a high school essay.
It is not important if the writing is replete with grammatical or spelling errors and typos. What matters most is the action of transferring the writer’s thoughts into text. A real writer gets the story out.
Correction comes 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 a 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 and structures.
Examples could include syntax, word choice, voice, language register and punctuation.
The definition of poor writing is that is uses 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, so it is no fun to read.
There are many ways you can 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 average writing into fantastic writing in no time at all.
1. This, that, it and there
Compare these sentence pairs.
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 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.
I went on holiday to Spain with my mother and her dog and got a dose of food poisoning. This is why it was a terrible holiday.
In the example sentence above, it is unclear what this is referring to. Was the holiday terrible because of the dog, the mother, the food poisoning or the selection of Spain?
Note meaning. Antecedent: an earlier word, phrase, or clause to which another word (especially a following relative pronoun) refers back.
New habit: Develop the routine of looking for and replacing unnecessary or unclear pronouns whenever possible.
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.
Our wedding day passed quickly.
Our wedding day was over before we knew it.
My daughter screams loudly.
You wouldn’t believe how loud my daughter can scream.
The soprano sang beautifully.
How the soprano sang was beautiful.
The syntax of the last three phrases is subject-verb-adverb. A few small changes and you can change the syntax of sentences.
Any style guide will recommend that you 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.
New habit: If you spot adverbs regularly, it’s a good idea to try to kill them, quickly.
Related reading: What’s The Difference Between Participial Phrase And Gerund?
3. Repeat, repeat, repeat and then change
Look at these examples and how repetition can be easily corrected.
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 and on about what the vet had told her about her cat earlier that afternoon.
Word repetition should be corrected by adding variety.
Repetition is very annoying for readers. Always look for alternatives by varying your syntax and using synonyms to replace weak and repeated words.
New habit: All writers have tic words and phrases. Get to know yours and eliminate as many as possible.
4. The passive must be 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.
New habit: You need to remove the passive and replace it with active forms.
5. Chop, chop, chop it up.
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. If you see a long sentence, chop it into pieces.
Short really is sweet, especially for online writing.
New habit: Keep it shorter and sweeter.
The difference between poor writers and bad writing, and good writers and great writing is the understanding that writing is a craft. It needs to be fashioned with care into an interesting, informative and readable text.
A 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 if it is fiction writing, a short story, blog posts and articles, marketing materials or a school essay. Crafting makes all the difference to a piece of writing.
Once you have finished, then is it time to correct and have someone else proofread it for you.
For many people, writing seems so easy. The truth is that it is not.
But it can be made easier if you can recognise 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.
Your 5 new writing habits.
1. Watch out for this and that!
2. Adverbs are out obviously
3. Don’t repeat it, it, it.
4. Active is always better.
5. Chop it up.
Now you can write and craft your writing with confidence and feel good in knowing that your readers will appreciate the effort you have made to write something wonderful for them.
Further reading: What To Write About When Your Brain Dries Up