The Bad Habits You Need To Break To Be A Good Writer

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

As a woman of a certain age, I find myself reading more and more about retirement. What comes up frequently in these articles are the bad financial habits that must be stopped in their tracks and replaced with good financial habits. Which is a bit easier said (or written about) than done since time is not exactly on the retiree’s side. 

As I have a bit of experience with lots of bad habits, and more specifically bad writing habits, I thought I’d share a few now so as to help you sooner rather than later. Though unlike bad money habits, when it comes to starting good writing habits, it’s never too late. (Yay!)

Procrastination

Show me a writer who has never engaged in this bad habit and I’ll show you a unicorn munching four-leaf clovers in a rainbow-colored meadow. But admittedly, on that unicorn’s back will be a very successful writer. 

Successful writers get in the habit of writing quotas early on in their career; they share a “no excuses” mentality when getting in their word counts, whether it’s a daily, weekly, or even yearly goal. It goes without saying that they scoff at the idea of writer’s block. 

Even the writer who must dig into tons of research before writing a single word will have detailed notes and references so that when they begin the writing, it runs relatively smoothly. 

Which brings me to the key word of breaking this bad habit: begin. Just begin the writing. And it’s okay to start small. Forming a new habit can take anywhere from 21 days to a year, but even a writing quota of 500 words a week will eventually get you to the finish line. The important part in derailing procrastination is making a goal you can keep and building on that. Aim too high and you’ll never begin. Set your sights on something attainable and you’ll be way more likely to succeed. 

Over-revising 

Sadly, this bad writing habit crept up on me the more I worked on novel manuscripts. I suspect it has something to do with a fear of failure, the concern that the story must be perfect in every way in order to make the all-important sell. 

It’s a funny thing; read about most highly successful novelists and you will find that they submitted their work even though they felt it wasn’t quite ready or they knew it could be better. So how does one break this bad writing habit? 

It’s not so much the writing as the thinking that must change, right? So if you find yourself like me, in the habit of ridiculous over-revising (should the comma go here or here?) and re-writing ad infinitum, then reach out to a trusted writing buddy, someone who will tell you the truth about your work. Someone who will nicely but firmly kick you off the perfection merry-go-round. 

Submitting Too Soon

On the other end of this bad writing habit is the newbie writer who dashes off an opus and sends the masterpiece out into the world, without so much as a single other pair of eyes taking a look first. 

Oh, dear. I cringe when I think of all the bad writing out there in the world with the name Cathy C. Hall on it. But I find solace in the fact that I don’t know a single published writer who has not submitted their work too soon. Most of us learn the error of our ways pretty darn quick, especially if we get into a critique group or pay for professional feedback. 

But woe to those writers who either don’t listen to critique or never bother to get feedback. These are the newbies with a bad writing habit that will keep them newbies. 

Still, there is always hope because the first step in breaking a bad habit—writing or whatever—is recognizing we have the habit in the first place. So do it now, be honest with yourself, or ask a trusted friend to give you the unvarnished truth. Either way, it won’t be long before you have good writing habits. (Yay!)

8 comments:

Renee Roberson said...

I have a terrible habit of writing novels, revising them a time or two, getting a few rejections, and then letting them languish on my hard drive. It's ridiculous. I'm sure if I focused on some targeted revisions, some of these books could actually find a home! Thanks for the nudge, and I'll keep an eye out for that unicorn!

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Cathy, all three of these bad habits have been a part of my writing life for more times than I care to remember, but I'm more mindful of them now and have been working harder to overcome them. Great post on turning our bad writing habits into good habits.

Angela said...

Great post, Cath! I have D: All of the Above writing habits you mentioned. The funniest one is submitting too soon without revising or feedback, and I admit I have some cringe worthy pieces out there! But hey, the lit journal editor liked it and you have to break in somehow. It means we've grown as writers if we can look back and see all of our mistakes. :) Our own perspectives as we mature can also drastically change the outcome of the same story, even if it's a true.

I think procrastination and over-revising fit under the umbrella of perfectionism. As you mentioned, accountability and firm deadlines will help!

Renee, I also have a terrible habit of writing essays, getting a couple rejections (only like 2!), and then shelving them instead of revising or putting them back out there. Maybe we should take inventory on our pieces and give them each a revision and publishing plan, set deadlines, and get them back out there. ;)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Seriously - don't any of us have unique bad habits? Something quirky but adorable?

Languishing manuscripts are definitely an issue here.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Great to know I'm in such good company, y'all! Why, when we know better, do we keep doing these things? (Probably because they're habits?)

And I have plenty of bad habits, Sue, I'm sure I can come up with something different...

Note to self: Next WOW! post title "Quirky but Adorably Unique Bad Writing Habits." :-)

Donna Volkenannt said...

Thanks for this post, Cathy. Some of my bad writing habits are procrastinating and over revising. I also get sidetracked easily.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Yes, I can answer D--all the above--as well. And it's sad. All of our faults are pathetically just like every other writers.

Unlike Angela, Renee, Sue and probably Donna, I have a manuscript that's gathering dust, but it is truly so horrible, no amount of revision could help it.

Linda O'Connell said...

It's like you have been peering over my
shoulder. I have learned to "write tight" and cutting improves my writing immensely. I have those cringe-worthy pieces out there,too.

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