Writing Process: Work Your Quirks

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We’ve all got writing quirks and mannerisms.

Writing quirks include grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, or little things you do that readers could find annoying. For example:

  • While writing quickly, you make the wrong choice between its and it’s, or your and you’re.
  • Awkward sentences suddenly appear in your drafts like unwelcome houseguests.
  • You have an obsession with ellipses…sentence fragments…

We’re all blessed, or cursed, with our own writing mannerisms, oddities and common mistakes. You have a choice: beat yourself up for your failings and try to fix them as you write. Or, accept them as a welcome mat to the revision process.

If you want to be a crazy-productive writer, use this three step process to come to terms with your mannerisms.

As with many things in life, the first step is to acknowledge that you have a problem. Identify your writing quirks, so you can search for them during the revision phase of your writing process.

Seeing your own issues is always more difficult than finding fault in others’ writing. So find an editor and be open to learning from them.

Some writers get prickly about being edited, but a good editor is the writer’s best friend.

Hiring a skilled editor to go through your work is one of the best investments you can make in your long-term writing career. Use the edit pass not only to fix the current piece, but also to identify trends and problems in your writing overall.

For example:

  • Do you repeat the same word too many times in a paragraph?
  • Do you rely on the passive voice?
  • Suffer from dangling participles or sentence fragments?

Behind each edit, look for stylistic or habitual trends. Make a list of the top four or five issues you want to change in your writing.

Once you’re aware of your quirks and faults, you may be tempted to try to eliminate them while writing the first draft. For the moment, don’t worry about them while drafting.

Many of your issues are artifacts of the way that you think. That quirky sentence construction may mirror a creative but roundabout thought process. If you try to edit as you write, you’ll disturb the flow.

Inviting the inner editor to the drafting process will inhibit creativity, and may slow you down. (See Write for Flow, Not Perfection.)

With the first draft completed, use your list from step one to jump-start the revision process.

For example, I look for an over-reliance on the verb “to be” as an entry point to revision. Once I add stronger verbs, the rest of the revision starts falling into place. I’ll also look for “waffling” words that weaken my points, such as:

  • Rather
  • Some
  • Perhaps
  • Certain
  • Very (It’s counter-intuitive, but using the word very often weakens the adjective you’re trying to emphasize.)

Often, you’ll need to decide if a writing mannerism is appropriate for the audience and medium. Textbooks should be impersonal; personal blogs may support the informal tone and style, letting you trail off with ellipses…

Either way, knowing your specific writing mannerisms puts you in control of the tone and style that you communicate.

If you follow this process, your quirks will change and evolve over time. After several revision cycles, you will internalize easy-to-fix mistakes and they’ll cease to appear in drafts. Drop them from your list and add new ones.

Every writer can find something to improve.

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Image: Ryan McGuire on Gratisography

Originally published at annejanzer.com on December 11, 2015.

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta). AnneJanzer.com

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