Sunday, January 24, 2016

Five Ways to Combat Bad Writer Habits

This week I put out on Amazon a short read. It's a true story I wrote some time ago, that was originally published in a literary magazine, about one of the most unsettling experiences of my life. A brush with the unseen that I don't care to repeat!

So, our topic this week is "My Bad Habit as a Writer."

Which took some thinking about, really. Not that I'm ALL THAT or anything... but I have rather ruthlessly weeded out my bad habits over the many years. An aspiring writer in LERA, my local RWA chapter (which rocks and you should totally join if you're anywhere in the New Mexico neighborhood - we have people who drive 3-4 hours to come to the meetings) messaged me this morning and said admiring things about my productivity. I replied that I've spent *years* building up the habits and skills to be at this point. Like... twenty years.

And I'm still a work in progress, which I suppose is part of the point. So, rather than focus specifically on my own bad habits, former, existing or future, I thought I'd give five ways that I've developed to identify and eliminate bad habits.

1) Own Your Process

I put this first because I think this is the most vital thing for us to discover about ourselves as writers. It trumps all other advice. If writing every day doesn't work for you, fine. BUT, learn what *does* work, own it, and hold your own feet to the fire. This takes a lot of writing, self-examination and ruthless honesty. There's a reason so many tales hinge on seeing oneself in the mirror or seeing oneself truly. The best thing any writer can do, in my opinion, is to concentrate on learning how they write best - and then holding themselves to that standard.

2) Kick Excuses to the Curb

Excuses are like opiates - they soften the edge of ambition. They make everything okay. Believe me, I hear such a huge range from aspiring writers. Family is usually a huge one, from kids to aging parents. There's something notable right there. Kids grow up and parents age, which means there will *always* be someone who seems to need you. That's not a bad thing, but their need can easily become an excuse. Again, this takes brutal honesty with oneself. Sure, some days the writing has to defer to something else - health, business, other priorities. But that's the key word: PRIORITIES. Have a strong prioritization list and don't change it. Many successful writers with kids put "somebody is bleeding" over "finishing wordcount," but everything else falls below that. It's salient to me that the productive writers I know never offer excuses for not getting their work done. They might bemoan failing to reach a goal, but they take solid responsibility for it. No excuses!

3) Listen to Your Editors - and Learn

I hear editors complain sometimes that their authors turn in book after book with the exact same elements that need correcting. A good editor/author relationship should be ever-evolving. I don't expect to receive edit letters on the drafts I turn in to say, "Perfect! You've done everything with such excellence that I have zero editorial comments." (Okay, maybe I fantasize about this - a girl can dream, after all - but I know that's not at all likely.) BUT, I really hope that I won't get the same editorial comments over and over. Working with an editor should improve my craft and skill as a writer. A good editor should help us grow. That can only happen if we're willing to learn.

4) Study Successful Authors

By this I mean anyone who's doing well. Sure some are flukes, but be wary of dismissing a popular book as beneath your notice. Even if it seems the prose isn't up to some standard, hundreds of thousands of people don't read "bad" books. Read at least some to discover what IS appealing to readers. Pay attention to the books *you* love to read, too, and learn from them. Take workshops from authors who are doing good work. Study what other writers are doing that makes them successful. There's always room to learn something more.

5) Keep a List of Recurring Tics

I've talked about this before, but it's worth revisiting. No writer is perfect. We all have various tics and crutches. I keep a list of words I tend to overuse, grammatical errors I often repeat, and punctuation bugaboos that escape me while drafting. Before I send to my editor, I spend usually an entire day searching my novel for these common mistakes. Over time, I've gotten much better about some of them. "Now" and "just" don't turn up nearly with the frequency that they used to. (Though when they do, they're inevitably in little poisonous nests, with several in one paragraph, or sometimes in the same sentence!) This loops back to #1, Owning Your Process. I don't worry about these things while drafting, because they're incidental to my process. I do, however, need to fix them at some point. No excuses for that.


  1. Love the cover of the re-release! Paranormal encounters FTW!

  2. That was a cheapie Fiverr cover, too! But I thought it turned out great. Thanks!!

  3. Hmm...I'm intrigued by this short.

    As always, a good list from Jeffe. My mind is full of excuses and second guesses. Seems I should be rid of both!