For the rest of December, we have a guest author! I’d like to welcome Michael J. Sullivan, the author of the Riyria fantasy series.
As we all know, authors are people. And people make mistakes. This is why we write drafts and do a lot of editing. This is why editors exist. It’s also why authors often have beta readers pick apart their books. It’s a reason I also use a critique group. They help catch many of my mistakes.
There are plenty of things I do wrong, but I wouldn’t classify them as “bad habits.” I have a system that works well for me, so my “habits” are generally positive ones. For instance, I write at the same time every day, right after I wake up and have had some coffee.
Because writing is my favorite pastime, I don’t have issues with “internet distraction,” an “inability to get my butt in the chair,” or procrastination, like some authors do. As for the mistakes I commonly make, I used to be terrible with comma placement, adding and removing them constantly. Having worked with some great copy editors over the years, I’m better about this now. Even so, I would say it’s still a weakness of mine. Another issue for me is that there are words I commonly mix up, such as lose and loose. Then there are words I’ve “improperly learned,” which I don’t even realize are wrong. For instance, I always write perform as preform as I’m not cognizant there are two different words. No matter how many times my wife reminds me of this fact, I’ll still write it wrong. Luckily for me, she keeps a list of these common mistakes and squashes them on my behalf, so I don’t embarrass myself. Well, not on those points at least.
Looking over my current draft of Jasper, I suppose my worst habit would be writing too little in previous versions. The better part of my revision process has been in creating new scenes to flesh out the story. I’m not sure if this habit is my reluctance to tackle scenes I may find difficult, or if I’m just eager to move on to the next event. Either way, I’m learning that it’s best for me to include these scenes from the start.
We don’t have time to go through all of my bad habits. Writing realistic dialogue is my biggest issue. Writing dialogue and proper grammar are not the same thing. I have my high school English teacher sitting on my shoulder telling me, that is not grammatically correct and ‘hey’ is not a word. I think there is a fine line for writer’s to write realistic dialogue and using good grammar. At times, that can be difficult. I spend more time editing minor things like, adding contractions, than going back and replotting. Good dialogue is hard. It must be practiced. So if you see me in a restaurant, with my head tilted and a lost look in my eyes…walk away. I’m eavesdropping on the group behind me. Listening to the way they speak. Conversation is like a wave. It has a beginning and an end, but between the two it’s filled with ebbs and flow. We all do it (conversation) but we all do it differently. Regional dialogue (what I use) is even more chaotic. Walk down any mall or school and you will hear at least half a dozen different accents. They may have all grown up within spitting distance, but they use language in a different way. As a writer, mastering dialogue is the hardest thing (for me). Don’t even get me started on the use of humor in writing. We don’t have time or space for that!
Not writing enough description. My rough drafts are very dialogue heavy. I love dialogue and action because of the tension and pacing but description is more difficult for me. Not that it’s hard, it’s just not something I get excited about. I tend to be pretty bare bones in that department even in my finished and published works.
When I was 12 or 13, I started writing a story, or series of stories, and didn’t get very far in the actual plot because it was too bogged down with explaining what happened before the story really started. Also, it kind of sucked, and when I say that I mean it sucked compared to other things I wrote as a kid; it certainly wasn’t the story that my teacher complimented.
Okay, I don’t want to drag that self-demonstrating answer out too much; the mistake that I keep repeating is including too much backstory too soon.
I am sure I have quite a few bad habits—beginning with procrastination—but the one that annoys me most is my reliance on adverbs, even though I know they reflect weak writing. I’ve gotten to the point where I just let myself write awful first drafts full of those pesky adverbs and worry about them after the first draft.
Adverbs, or as many professional writers would refer to it: “telling instead of showing”. I’m horrible for this, particularly in my first drafts. It was the one thing that I really had to look out for when I was editing “Nowhere to Hide”. The thing is, I do take pride in trying to “show” instead of “tell”, but I also don’t agree with the overwhelming majority of writers that adverbs are the worst writing mistake in the world. I believe that adverbs have their place, and that it’s a little silly to try and abolish and entire set of words from the English language just because their use might be a little bit lazier. I’ve read lots of books that are positively littered with adverbs, and it honestly didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.
I have this tendency to write complex, multi-story-arc, 500-plus-page novels. I’ve been told that today’s readers just don’t want that sort of thing. I don’t see myself breaking the habit any time soon.
I’m really annoyed at my current habit of trying to end chapters with ‘zingers’ — you know, mini-cliffhangers or other quick summations of threat/worry that are meant to push the reader forward. I don’t feel like I do them well, and beside that, they can feel artificial. Some of my breakout lines feel like that too — single sentences between heftier paragraphs meant for impact or to give a feeling of suddenness or insight. (I’m sure there are actual terms for these things but I’m just making my own here.) I’m trying to get better/more adept at it, but it can feel manipulative.
Sometimes, while I’m writing, I’ll find a really good phrase or way to word something, and it’ll pop up all over every project I’m working on at the time (I usually work on at least two at a time, with each MS in a different stage of its publication process). It drives me crazy because it’s just like more work to do during the editing process. But I love editing, so it’s okay. :]
Hope you’re enjoying yourself, Linda!
I make a lot of mistakes. It seems grammar and spelling are my strong points, but that doesn’t make the draft very good. I can echo others above me on this post saying that I don’t write enough, meaning I use too much dialogue, not enough action. However, I do have another problem which I feel is a big one. I’m too wordy in sentences. They come across as cumbersome and slow to read. I find that I often have to cut words out to make it sound better and crisper.
How about you?
What do you think is your bad habit or frequent writing mistake? It doesn’t matter if you don’t write books, it can also apply to blog posts. Share your problems in the comments below.