3 Writing Habits That Will Make You a Better Writer
Everyone knows writers are creatures of habit. Think about it…we can’t start the day without ingesting a massive dose of caffiene first. We can’t get any work done until after we’ve checked our email inbox and Twitter. Some of us (I’m mainly talking about myself here — bear with me) have even turned procrastination into a daily routine. Of course, procrastination aside, this isn’t really a bad thing, especially when you can use it to your advantage to improve your writing. In some cases, having a regular schedule (or even outright obsessive compulsive tendencies) can make the writing process quicker, easier and more enjoyable. In my time as a writer, I’ve picked up more than a few writing habits, good and bad. Here are a few of the really good ones:
- Turn spell check off! Turning it off may seem pretty counter-intuitive at first, but did you know that the spelling/gramming checker in Microsoft Word (or whatever word processor you Mac hipsters out there use) can actually harm your writing? It’s true! You see, the proofreading functions in most word processors — mainly designed for people writing technical documents or reports — just don’t seem to get how creative writing works. Take this sentence from my novel as an example:
I wrap my arm around her back and lift her up, willing her to open her eyes and tell me if she’s okay.
Microsoft Word’s grammar checker flags the word “tell” in that sentence as incorrect, suggesting that I change it to “tells” — it’s detecting that I’m using the present tense and wants to change “tell” to the present tense as well. In a report or essay, this would probably be a good idea, but in a fiction piece, it reads perfectly fine as it is. Now, imagine if I assumed that it knew what it was talking about and clicked the “correct” button without thinking. Yeah… it doesn’t quite make sense now.
- Try to write every day. I’ve kinda touched on this one before, but getting into the habit of writing something every day (even if it’s just a paragraph or two) is a great way to prevent yourself from suffering from writer’s block. If you can, set aside an hour or so each day as “writing time” and encourage yourself to write. Basically, the human brain is designed to adapt itself to a routine, performing more efficiently at tasks that are done on a regular basis. If you force yourself to write a little each day, it’ll soon become second nature — you’ll be in the mood to write more often and won’t get burned out as easily.
This advice comes right from the legendary Stephen King and I used it to finish my novel, too: by forcing myself to write at least 1000 words each day without fail, I eventually became able to work on my novel without thinking about it. Don’t push yourself to the point of overdoing it though — if you just can’t bring yourself to work on your current project today, put it aside. Try writing a short story or, if you have multiple projects, working on something else instead.
- Learn to cut down your word count. I’ve heard it said countless times: overwriting can really hurt the flow and pacing of a story. I’ve never understood why a lot of writers assume that more words equals better storytelling. On the contrary, getting into the habit of using fewer words to express the same thing and you’ll end up with a better flowing, more impactful story. Tweaking your writing style so that you use less words is a great way to make your writing tighter. Think about what you’re writing and keep an eye out for redundant words and save your adjectives for when you really need them. If you see them sneaking into your story, cut them out! Here’s a random sentence taken from a Dark Edifice submission I had to read last month:
He knew that he was scared, but he didn’t know the reason why.
There are two redundant parts of this sentence: “he knew that” and “the reason”. Take them out and the resulting sentence — He knew he was scared, but he didn’t know why — still conveys the same meaning, but it does it quicker and with more bite.
Becoming a better writer isn’t something that happens overnight, but with good organisation skills and a considerable amount of willpower, you can adopt habits that will make the learning process a lot quicker. How cool is that?