1. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Unlearning bad writing behavior?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jc., Jan 30, 2012.

    Hello,

    Recently I got some eye opening advice. I learned that I've picked up a slew of bad habits, such as relying on adverbs to tell (as opposed to show) and abusing adjectives.

    My questions are, how do you unlearn years of bad writing behavior? How do you break not one, but many bad habits? More importantly, how do you know if you're doing it right? I spent the last six hours revising just one 2,000 word chapter and am still finding things everywhere. All that's left is what looks like the bare minimum and I'm so confused. Is this just the shock I'm feeling? I used to have a sense of knowing what I was doing and now it's gone.

    I feel overwhelmed but I'm determined to improve. I'm not looking for the easy way out because then I wouldn't learn, but a better approach or mindset would clear things up for me. Any advice, words of wisdom, or personal experiences that you think could help someone in my position would be greatly appreciated.


    Thank you for your time,

    JC
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Best way is not to try to do everything at once. Pick the very worst habit and work on that (and once you're aware of it, it's easier). Then move to the next one. And bear in mind, it's not a quick fix type of thing. It takes time to develop a habit and it takes time to break it. But then, a good book isn't written overnight either. ;)
     
  3. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    You're right, thank you. I guess I just need to accept that this will take a lot of time, frustration, and hard work. It'll be worth it. But how do I know if I'm doing it right?

    I'm sitting here scratching my head trying to figure out if what I'm left with is an acceptable answer.
     
  4. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree, work at one thing at the time, when you think you've learned it, you move on to the next. Revising old drafts is a good thing too, I guess. But even here you can't see everything in one glance. sometimes when skipping a few adjectives you have to rewrite the sentence entirely to not lose the effect or make it sound incomplete. You still wanna give the same information but in a different way, by showing instead of telling.
     
  5. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe work on improving it in revision instead of during the draft. I think you can learn better by seeing how the changes effect something you've already written then by trying to force it as you're writing. Once you learn how to apply the new techniques, I think you'll find your drafts getting a little stronger as you are weaned off of the bad habits.

    Also be careful of too broad brushed advice against using anything in particular. A lot of times, you can take it too far to the other extreme.
     
  6. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Thank you, I've been noticing this as well. The sad thing is that some of my paragraphs were so polluted with adverbs/adjectives that I ended up just deleting the whole thing and re-writing them from scratch. But it's worth it, or it will be anyway.
     
  7. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Thank you for this. For some reason it didn't occur to me to focus on one thing at a time until I can recognize it right away. That would make all the other little problems easier to deal with.

    Oh, and I assure you. The advice I got was very helpful and true. I am very grateful for the wake up call.
     
  8. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^^^I definitely learned a lot about my own habits by having them applied to what I already wrote. But when I tried to improve as I was writing something new, was a lot more headache-inducing. lol
     
  9. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm with Show. Don't try to fix things during the first draft, always wait for the rewrites.

    After a first draft, if the work needs major rewriting, I'll take it scene by scene and do multiple 'passes'. I'll do a pacing pass, a unnecessary words pass, a dialogue pass, a consistency pass, and finally a spelling and grammar pass.

    By splitting each potential problem area into a completely separate mini-rewrite, it makes it easier to approach, and to handle without getting bogged down or discouraged.
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Edit, edit, edit. You can never review your work too many times. Also, keep your trusty volume of Strunk and White with you and peruse it from time to time, just to remind yourself of the most common pitfalls.
     
  11. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Yeah. It's disheartening too, staring at a big white screen and a blinking cursor and trying to write something you don't know how to write yet. Thank you again for your advice.
     
  12. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Hi again, buddy. Your post count is climbing too fast for my liking. I can't let myself be dethroned as top poster!

    That aside, would you recommend just leaving my current work as is for now and moving on with my story? Should I start with small changes at first (such as cutting out adjectives and using "he/she said")?

    Thanks for all the help you've been giving me. It means and helps so much.
     
  13. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    Hi, EdFromNY. Thanks so much for this. I am looking forward to the 389393 revisions and rewrites ahead of me. At least I think I am.
     
  14. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is. Being a writer is definitely full of those discouraging obstacles. And no problem. :)
     
  15. jc.
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    jc. Contributing Member

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    But it's also so full of personal payoff and possibilities. *dreamy sigh*
     
  16. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yepperz. If you can navigate the turbulent waters, it's got a lot of reward. It's why we all do it. :D
     
  17. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    And don't forget to fling Strunk and White across the room when they get silly (which is too often, IMO).
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is really up to you to decide how to go about this. What I would do though, I'd post a topic to find out top 10 most recommended books about writing. Then I'd go and get those books and read them before I wrote another word (not counting this forum, or my blog, of course :D). Then, since I'd probably have a million little story ideas by the time I finish, I'd write a short story employing everything I learned. And I'd edit it until my beta reader and I are (almost) 100% happy with it.
    Once you write something really good, you have personal experience of it, rather than rushing through it. I think that's the quickest way. To put yourself through a writing boot-camp.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't recommend stopping and and editing your whole story before you go on, especially if you're in the middle of it and you're still feeling good creative flow when you write it. If you want to do both, you could, say, write new material two days out of three, and do some editing the third day.

    I agree with the suggestion to change one thing at a time. You don't necessarily need to get perfect with that one change, but it would be good to focus on it long enough to get the goal cemented in your mind. As examples of my "things":

    - I overuse weakening modifiers and other wishy-washy structures. As an example of the problem, I originally wanted to write that sentence as "I tend to use a few too many weakening modifiers..." So I'm trying to cut them out of my writing. Sometimes I see them coming on the first draft, but often I have to catch and kill them in editing.

    - I'm addicted to one-sentence paragraphs. They're not always a bad thing, but they emphasize the information in the paragraph, and I'm emphasizing too many things.

    - I repeat myself, sometimes rephrasing the same idea two or three times with very minor variations in meaning. For example, when we were talking in that other thread, I originally wrote a white silk blouse analogy _and_ a black velvet cloak analogy. :) I'm so far unable to catch that in the first draft.

    - I overuse italics to emphasize words and phrases.

    - I overuse semicolons. I think. I don't see a problem with my use of semicolons, but the fact that I use them more than most other people suggests that there's an issue. I don't know what to do about this, aside from questioning myself really hard if there are two semicolons in close proximity. Also, when I'm resisting the urge to use semicolons, I overuse hyphens instead.

    - I overuse... I'm not sure what to call it. Repetition? Rhythm? As an example, in a recent post on a sewing forum I said that I was going to make a blouse "... in textured pink shirting. Or in white cotton. Or in white Brussels washer. Or in blue linen." I like this sort of structure and find it satisfying, but I have too much of a taste for it. It's usually a bad thing. This is another thing that I don't catch until editing time.

    And it's fine to let things slide until editing time. I don't strain to catch any of the above in the first draft--the first draft is for letting my thoughts flow. And I enjoy editing, often more than the original writing.

    ChickenFreak
     
  20. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ha ha! I'm happy to take second place to you. :)

    In answer to "would you recommend just leaving my current work as is...": This is the most valuable thing I've ever learned about the craft of writing. My work became significantly better when I started applying this. Ready?

    Creating and Editing are two completely different mental processes. Never under any circumstances try to do both at the same time. Create, all the way to the end of a piece of work. Do not edit while creating. When it's done, Edit, all the way to the end of the work, before creating anything new.

    My work when I'm creating is very bad. It's full of errors and inconsistencies, sometimes too much description, sometimes not enough, dialogue that doesn't flow, huge plot holes, and often very poor word choices. But if I stop to fix the problems it causes my brain to change gears and I lose the creative spark. Even though it's actually painful for me to not go back and fix things, I force myself to keep going till it's done. Every time I have broken this rule I have been unable to complete the piece of work. I get stalled, discouraged, or I lose the flow.

    However, I am an unusually skilled self-editor. I spent nineteen years writing sermons for my church based on material provided by my superiors and learned much about editing. So my first drafts may be bad, but give me a couple rewrites and I can make even a festering turd of monumental proportions shine like a brand-new penny.

    If the work of yours I've seen is first or early drafts, you are a much better Creator than me. Now you just have to learn how to self-edit. Which is one of the reasons why you're here, I assume. :)

    My point is, my experience has taught me the principle stated above. Create, then Edit. Never both at the same time.
     
  21. Ziggy Stardust
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    Ziggy Stardust Active Member

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    You just need to be aware of it really. These are not the sort of things you should be waiting for editing to deal with. You need to keep it in mind when you're writing. Once you know what "show don't tell" means, you're already half way there. Be aware of what you're writing, are you showing or are you telling? Should you be showing or should you be telling? That's really all you need to do. You'll probably get the hang of it pretty quickly. When you start "showing" the excessive adverbs should fall away naturally.

    I wouldn't suggest trying to learn this stuff by editing your old work. Start on a new chapter, show don't tell, you'll learn as you write. By the time you've finished your book you'll be a better writer than you are now anyway, that's when you can go back and edit/rewrite.
     
  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just like to point out that this works for you - it isn't necessarily a Rule for Successful Writing. ;) I would never be able to write like that, for instance. JC should continue to write in whatever way has worked for her so far (either by writing to the end or editing along the way), and concentrate now on correcting the bad habits. No point switching methodologies if that's not what's broken.
     
  23. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed. Especially with your statement:
    But she did specifically ask should I keep going or should I edit. So I answered based on my experience. Also every book I own on writing or editing says the same thing, in various words. Just wanted to share it in case she'd never heard the idea.

    But you raise an even more important point. I've spent years developing a writing process that works for me. I hear so many people asking for advice when in actuality, every writer has to work out their own process.

    Shadowwalker is right jc. Advice is good, but ultimately it's your process. It has to work for you.
     
  24. Party Poison
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    Party Poison Member

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    Well, since I am young it doesn't matter THAT much for me, but I just try to edit the best I can by myself and eventually learn from mistakes. One day I write perfectly, the next I have errors every other sentence.(sometimes I use too much detail on little things to worry about, and on big things I don't use enough)
     
  25. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Of course you are. Each edit is like a sculptor shaving a little excess away as the statue is gradually perfected. It's an important part of what we writers do. Good luck.
     

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