Annoying Writing Habits

Sometimes, before I start writing for a day, I look back at what I’ve written the previous day and mess around with it. Then I get annoyed at myself for committing the following crimes:

1. Using conjunctions at the beginnings of sentences. It’s not “wrong” per se, but I do it often enough that I really notice it as I read back over a scene. If you find yourself starting sentences with any of the “fanboys” (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), make sure you’re not doing it too often.

2. Abusing the word “just”. I don’t do this a lot in fiction writing, but I notice that if I’m writing an email to someone, I’ll use “just” as a kind of mitigator. Like, “it’ll just take an hour” or “I just looked this over for typos” – not “just” as in “I did it at that moment,” but “just” as in “only”.

3. Too many similies. Similies and metaphors are great rhetorical devices, but if you use them too much, they get irritating. A lot of the time, I notice that I use similies when I’m trying to be poetic – and the poetic-ness doesn’t usually work out.

4. Mentioning a character’s eyes. A lot of writers do this too often, and I’m consciously noticing every time I do it so that I can cut down on it. There are other facial features and other ways of expression than trying to tell how a character feels from the look in his eyes.

5. Overusing progressive tense. Today I had written a few sentences in a row that were like this: “They were running toward the door.” “She was biting her fingernails.” Changing those sentences to “They ran toward the door” and “She bit her fingernails” cut down on words and didn’t change my intended meaning. Only use progressive tense if you really mean that the action is progressive.

Are there any annoying quirks that you notice about your own writing? How do you stop doing them?

13 thoughts on “Annoying Writing Habits

  1. I like opening sentences with conjunctions. But you’re right, overdoing it takes the juice out of them. I use the progressive tense sparingly—there’s something beautiful about the simple present and the simple past.
    I’ve been told that I overuse the em-dash. So I keep an eye out for that. I avoid similes and metaphors as much as I can, mainly because I’m not good at them. I also edit as I write, which is bad because I never finish an idea. It’s probably better to let the words flow and then edit them. But I have too much OCD for that I guess. Nice list!

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  2. A helpful reader pointed out many years ago that I tend to use “obviously” a lot, so I watch out for that. “A bit” is another one. My detective character smokes a lot, and a couple of times I’ve found I have her lighting a cigarette when she couldn’t possibly have finished the previous one. 🙂

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    1. One of my characters smokes too, and in the middle of writing I don’t pay much attention to when he’s finished a cigarette, so it’s kind of funny to read back over what I’ve written and see all the discrepancies.

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  3. Al of these are very good and whenver I edit I realize I tend to forget about some basic “writing” principles to keep the text neat, tidy, and flowing, when I’m in the midst of creating.

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  4. Fab post! The ‘just’ problem applies to me and it’s a major problem of mine. I bet if I skimmed down my blog home page I would look at my posts with anger because I say ‘just’ before everything. It really annoys me! I also tend to ramble on about things when I should really just make some sentences more to the point.

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  5. I let the words flow as they will . . . and then edit away unnecessary interlopers. “Just” gets cut a lot.

    I avoid “was” and “were” whenever possible.

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