We've all got 'em. It's easy to think that we're alone in committing writing crimes, and that's probably because most of the work we read is in it's final, polished form, having been proof-read, edited and tenderly buffed to a beautiful shine. We work very hard to look good, but we're willing to bet that all writers have a bad habit or two hidden away at the back of their closet. This week, we're asking the Scribble to own up to their most prolific writing crimes and bad habits.
I was going to start with something along the lines of, ‘Well, my bad writing habits are too numerous to count, I’m absolutely rubbish, ha ha…’
Then I realised that that is my worst habit of all. Selling my writing short, putting it down, and picking holes in it. It’s probably some kind of an automatic self-defence mechanism, but all it actually achieves is to strangle my stories at birth, before they ever have a chance to draw breath.
Negative self-talk is poison in the creative well. If you’re a writer, or indeed any type of creative, you have to believe in what you do. If you don’t, you can’t really expect anyone else to.
Don’t expect yourself to produce perfection in the first draft. Or the second, or the third. But writing is an exciting, organic process, and if you love and believe in your creations, they will come to life and move in directions you never, ever would have expected.
My biggest writing crimes are deleting drafts, or just giving up mid-flow because it isn't going how I want. It's terrible, I promise I'm a determined person most of the time! Sometimes it's just so disheartening when you think you have the most wonderful idea and then you feel like you're not doing it justice. I've definitely snapped a few pencils and hurled a few pens in frustration over the years!
Deleting drafts is a big no. Don't do it to yourself. Trust me on that one, pop it in a folder to collect cyber (or physical) dust for a few months, years or decades. I can't tell you how often I've thought of something I deleted and desperately wished I could go back and get my teeth into it with all the new wisdom and skills I'd collected since the deletion. If you never revisit it, it does no harm just sitting. But it will do harm if you wake up at 3am with an itch to edit a piece which no longer exists.
Giving up is also a no. It's another ‘leave it and return eventually’ moment I think. It's terribly annoying but sometimes a good sulk really does do the trick. I like to slam my laptop closed and have a sulk in bed for a bit before I decide if I'm making an immediate return to it or leaving it to lurk in the back of my mind for a while. I think every single writer you know will totally understand the pain of not having a great idea develop how you want it to, but that really isn't a good enough reason to give up on it. So many different things can impact writing, so just give it time! You never know what can happen if you return to it with a slightly different mindset, even if that's only after a good night's sleep.
Keep all the things. Eventually, you will probably have to clear some storage or something, but you can make those hard decisions then. Just keep all the drafts and all the notes as long as possible; you'll thank yourself one day. I know I wish I had.
I’ll give you a clue. I wrote this answer last minute.
I’m a terrible procrastinator in all the usual ways. When I should be writing, I often busy myself with jobs that in other circumstances I’d avoid like the plague. Or I put off the work day by day until time is almost up. At undergrad, I often found myself in the library, frantically typing into the early hours of the morning, trying to beat a deadline.
I have worked on this since my first year at university. I’m aware that I am not as bad as I used to be. Instead of throwing in a last minute submission just before a deadline, I often finish my work now with a few days to spare. I never realised before but it makes a huge difference. That extra time before a deadline allows for more intense editing and proofreading. It gives me time to take a step back from my work and improve it further before submission. Deadlines are good. Whether you work right up to the hour or you finish with time to spare, a deadline is an incentive. It forces you to write. Because you have to. My biggest trouble comes when there are no deadlines to push me forward. It is so much easier to ignore your work when there isn’t a time limit on it. When there isn’t a deadline it is very easy to tell yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow”. One way to combat this issue is to set your own deadlines – and stick to them. Another is to incentivise yourself with rewards: after a thousand words I can have a tea break; if I finish this story tonight, I can do something fun tomorrow.
I still struggle with this but it is something that I’m working on. Procrastination is a productivity killer. If you struggle with it, you have to be strict with yourself. It can be difficult, but it’s worth it.
In a word? Adverbs. Adverbs are my arch-nemesis.
Finding the line between expressive / descriptive and overdone is challenging for me. Once a draft has been finished, the first thing I always do is pick back through it and delete 85% of the adverbs I’ve relentlessly, overenthusiastically shoehorned in.
The problem is, when you’re learning creative writing as a youngster in school, you’re encouraged to spend adverbs like AK-47 ammunition, spraying them into sentences like magic story-telling bullets. Only, when you get a little bit older and start to get serious about honing your craft, you have to start unlearning this habit - a habit which has now become hard coded as ‘good writing’.
The frustrating thing is, adverbs are magic bullets. However, they should be the ammunition of the sniper, not the machine-gunner. One strategic, well placed adverb is worth twenty, when those twenty are carelessly or arbitrarily placed.
It’s alright to have bad writing habits, as long as you can recognise them and get yourself a system in place to manage them.
(And, preferably, friends you can trust to give you a slap on the wrist when you start getting a bit overzealous with the descriptives...)
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