Three Weird Writing Habits You May Have Picked Up Without Even Realising It

Among the arts, writing is fairly unique in that the great majority of people can participate in it without any special training. Not accounting for natural talent, the best that most of us can do is draw something vaguely cat-shaped and butcher an Oasis song on karaoke night. On the other hand, writing is something that's drilled into us from an early age, and the barrier to entry is fairly low. Just about anyone can pick up a pen and engage in a flight of fancy.

That said, beyond the filling out of forms, many people's engagement with writing drops off significantly after their school years. Ask ten adults what the difference between a noun and a verb is, and you'd be surprised by how many of them can't answer.

No matter how attentive of a student you were, when you decide to revisit your childhood dream of becoming a writer in your later years, there are good odds you've forgotten some things along the way. In particular, the principles of creative writing only account for a small percentage of our learning of literacy, so you may never have learned them to begin with. As such, your stylistic decisions might be more based on instinct than actual knowledge.

This week's Writer's Connect, issue 85, invited you to give yourself a refresher on the basics to make sure you knew them as well as you thought you did. In that same spirit, the following is a list of three habits you may have picked up unintentionally in your time at the typewriter.

Donkey - Three Weird Writing Habits You May Have Picked Up Without Even Realising It
The definitive guide to not making an ass of yourself!

This post brought to you by guest blogger Tyrone Couch.

Using Too Many Adjectives

For absolute clarity, adjectives are a category of words commonly referred to as 'describing words' (e.g., beautiful, large). They give attributes to a noun, or 'naming word' (e.g., cat, city), thereby describing its qualities.

In your efforts to describe things in your writing, you might find yourself doing lots of this:

The stunning, ornate entryway was a spectacular example of Victorian Gothic architecture, its large, imposing stone columns giving off a foreboding, awe-inspiring aura.

While the above example does provide a clear image of the thing it's describing, it is heavily reliant on the use of adjectives, several of which are similar in meaning. Further, there are three instances where more than one adjective is used to modify a single noun. This is called an adjective phrase, and using too many of them can quickly overwhelm your writing.

Adjectives are not inherently bad. In fact, they're necessary to make meaning. If we were to remove all adjectives and adjective phrases from the above example, we'd be left with this:

The entryway was an example of architecture, its stone columns giving off an aura.

Amusing, but not very informative!

The first half of the sentence now only states the obvious, giving no details about the entryway or the narrator's perception of it. And without an adjective to describe the aura in the second half, there's no longer any sense of the impression the entryway gives, rendering having mentioned it at all almost pointless.

Let's look at the example again with only the bare essentials:

The entryway was a spectacular example of Victorian Gothic architecture, its stone columns giving off a foreboding aura.

Now that we've done away with the fluff, things are looking much tidier ... but we may have gone a step too far. Though the meaning has indeed been restored, something about the feeling has been lost.

The absence of 'stunning', 'ornate', and 'awe-inspiring' has little to no impact on the visual, which is a good indication that they're unnecessary. But without 'large' and/or 'imposing', there's no sense of the columns' scale, which is a big part of what gives them their imposing aura.

Let's try one more time:

The entryway was a spectacular example of Victorian Gothic architecture, its monolithic stone columns giving off a foreboding aura.

On its own, 'imposing' might imply that the columns are large, but it doesn't expressly communicate it, and could be construed as doubling up on 'foreboding'. As for 'large' ... well, it's just a bit boring by itself, and doesn't work hard enough to convey the image.

With 'monolithic', we've pared the use of non-essential adjectives right back from four to one, preserving the imagery and leaving the sentence far less bloated. Some purists argue that even one unnecessary adjective is too many but personally, if it adds flavour, then I'm all for it.

The goal is not to eliminate the use of adjectives, but to use them sparingly, and to break the habit of throwing in as many as possible. If they're not helping you get your message across, you don't need 'em.

Abusing Analogies

When you make an analogy every other paragraph, it weighs down your writing like a load too heavy for your car to tow. Like a guitar out of tune, it'll hit all the wrong notes, and your audience will leave the theatre long before the last song. You'll be left alone on stage like a jilted lover, wondering where it all went wrong.

Analogies are a fantastic way of creatively communicating an idea without spelling it out to the reader, but there is such a thing as overdoing it. Too many together in close proximity and it can almost start to feel pretentious, like you're more interested in impressing  your audience with how witty and profound you are than telling a good story (even if that couldn't be further from the truth!).

There's also the issue of how creative you're really getting with them. While common and established analogies have the benefit of immediate relatability, they've also been done to death, and you run the risk of appearing lazy if you choose to fall back on them. A good analogy is one that isn't particularly common, closely resembles the thing you're trying to convey, and matches the tone of the scene. Why not try coming up with one of your own?

Not Considering Structure

Telling a story is all well and good, but a story is as much about its delivery as it is the plot. Your goal isn't just to relay information about an interesting series of events: it's to provide an experience full of ups and downs; highs and lows; tension and release.

Here, the word 'structure' is used broadly to refer to a multitude of things that are commonly overlooked when writing. The sequence of events is important, but it's not the only ingredient in the recipe. It includes paragraph and chapter length, pacing of the story, balancing the mood and tone, and the ratio of narration to dialogue. If you write without paying attention to any of these things ... well, you're in for an awful lot of editing!

I would recommend to any writer that they take some time out to research the anatomy of a good book and find out exactly what it is that makes it that way. There's an established formula that really doesn't deviate all that much from genre to genre and tons of resources out there that walk you through it step by step, so there's really no sense in flying blind.

Breaking the Habit ... Tonight!

Realising that one, more, or all of these apply to you, and feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of overcoming them? It's important to note that none of these things make you a bad writer; they're all incredibly common problems, and if anything, it'd be stranger if you didn't struggle with them to some degree.

Should you be interested in some assistance on your writing journey, our book coaching & writing programs will have you feeling calm and confident in no time.

And, if you'd like to see more like this delivered to your inbox every fortnight, make sure to subscribe to Writer's Connect (at the bottom of the page).

Word of the Day

moribund (adj.)

Moribund indicates that something is in a terminal state of decline, or lacking vitality. When ascribed to a person, it specifically relates to a state of near-death.

Their moribund dream of owning their own home seemed less realistic by the day.
When they found her, she was moribund and deathly pale.

Quotidian Quote

"Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals."
~ Jim Rohn

Get Competitive!

A selection of current writing competitions YOU can enter!

New Writers Poetry Competition

Format: Poetry
Theme: Open
Word Count: max. 40 lines
Entry Fee: £10
Prize: £1,000 plus publication
Closes: 12/07/2023

Click here for more details

New Writers Poetry Competition - Three Weird Writing Habits You May Have Picked Up Without Even Realising It

Valiant Scribe Poetry Competition

Format: Poetry
Theme: Hope
Word Count: Unlimited
Entry Fee: Nil
Prize: $500
Closes: 15/07/2023

Click here for more details

Valiant Scribe Poetry Competition

The Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition

Format: Flash fiction
Theme: Paranormal/supernatural
Word Count: max. 1,000
Entry Fee: $15
Prize: $1,000
Closes: 15/07/2023

Click here for more details

The Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition

The Sentence Expansion Extravaganza

Format: Short story
Theme: Prompt
Word Count: max. 3,000
Entry Fee: $2.25
Prize: Publication
Closes: 15/07/2023

Click here for more details

The Sentence Expansion Extravaganza


Look over the fine print to make sure that your submission qualifies and you're happy with the terms of engagement.

The Australian Society of Authors has a highly informative post on their website called 'What to look for in a writing competition's T&Cs' .
To locate the article, click on 'Home', then 'News'.

Photo credit Chris F, Pexels

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