I’m currently editing the fifth draft of my YA drama A Song For Bill Robinson. The fourth draft was edited on my Kindle, with me making notes on typos, words, and phrases to cut. Overall, I thought it was pretty good when I went through it on my Kindle. Almost there. On this current draft, however, I have totally changed my mind, because I can now see how many bad habits I have! And it’s so weird, because I don’t seem to spot them until I get to about fifth draft stage. Interesting! Anyway, I thought I would share them with you. And then you can tell me yours!
- Over-explaining – I don’t realise I am doing this in a first draft. I don’t even spot it on a second or a third. But eventually, I see it. Usually about now, when I am trying to get the word count down. I over explain things. I do this in real life too. My husband has a habit of quoting Tim from Spaced when I speak; ‘skip to the end…’ I am forever saying, ‘yeah, I know, I said that already.’ This isn’t too bad when talking to people, but when writing books? This is very bad indeed! Here’s an example… ‘And it was he who had suggested she stay the night. It was he who had talked her out of cycling home or going back to her dads for the night.’ (See? Too much explaining. The second sentence is not needed!)
- Repetition – This is similar to over-explaining but much more repetitive and needless. Again, I only notice this when editing a later draft and trying to delete unnecessary words. Here’s one I just picked up and this is typical; ‘He didn’t know. He didn’t have a clue and it was driving him crazy.’ You see, I really didn’t need to repeat the fact he didn’t know!
- I write too much – My word counts are ridiculous. This is a very bad thing because publishers don’t want to look at manuscripts with excessive word counts, and a lot of readers are also put off by them. It’s also bad when it comes to editing, formatting and revising. And it’s because I do too much overexplaining and repeating myself. I really need to get better at writing shorter books.
- Swearing – I’m getting better at this. I’m trying to rein my foul-mouthed characters in and make sure any curse words are absolutely necessary. One day, when I have the time, I will go back over all my old books and delete some of the swear words.
- Making Characters Frown – Ugh, so annoying. Again, I don’t realise I am doing this when I first write the book. But on later edits, it is revealed to me in the most cringe-worthy fashion, that there is way too much frowning going on!
- Making Characters Raise Their Eyebrows – Very annoying when you read it. There are many, many other ways to imply expression on a character’s face. I cut tons of these out as I edit again and again.
- Sighing and eye-rolling – So embarrassing, but it’s true. You think I would have grown out of this by now. But no. For some reason, when I write a first draft, all my characters sigh and eye-roll constantly. I have to calm them all down on later edits. It’s okay to be silent and still!
- Trying Way Too Hard To Make The Reader See Exactly What The Character is Doing – eg; ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea,’ Andy was shaking his head and blowing air out through his nostrils.’ Wait? What? Why did I feel the need to mention the fact he is breathing? Of course he is breathing, and the reader is well aware of that because he is talking and shaking his head. Nothing else needed!
- Not Bothering To Research Vital Things Because I Am Too Impatient To Get the First Draft Written – I try to kid myself that this is a good tactic. I am writing! I am getting words down, getting the story out! I don’t want to break that precious flow by stopping to research something as small as how a person is actually signed out from hospital! No, I’ll do that much later. (And then find out that I have to rewrite the entire scene…)
- Adding Pointless Needless Words That Do Nothing – eg ‘Andy watched rather helplessly’. He’s not watching rather helplessly. He’s not feeling rather helpless or rather that. Rather is a really horrible word actually and I am never, ever using it again.
Well, there you have 10 of my bad writing habits. Of course, there are loads more, but I didn’t want to bore you by waffling on, which is another bad habit of mine! So, come on then. Be brave. Tell me your bad writing habits. We can cringe together!
I’ve never understood the type of people who refuse to change the way they do things. You know the type. Even if what they’re doing is not going so well, they’ll hang onto the adamant belief that it is the best way to do it, simply because it is the way they have always done it. It’s even worse when it comes to opinions and beliefs. I have strong beliefs and opinions, but I like to keep my mind open and accept that knowledge and understanding are open to interpretation and change. If some new piece of knowledge comes along, I am always happy to admit I was wrong and change my way of thinking. I think the refusal to ever change your mind or admit you were wrong, is actually very dangerous. Anyway, in that spirit, I’ve been thinking lately about how I write now, and how I used to write. You see, over the last few novels, things have changed. And with the WIP I am on right now, and the book I have planned after that, I feel they are changing even more. Here’s how, and why…
- I edit as I go…Not word for word, not every paragraph, but I do now go back over what I wrote at the start of the session. And I always read what I wrote last before I start writing again. I used to do things quite differently. I would rush out this clunky, crazy first draft. It would be this desperate measure, this way of getting this thing out of my head once and for all. I’m not saying that’s wrong, and I think with some books it’s totally the right way to do it! But I have noticed lately that I’m slowing the process down. I’m going back over what I last wrote and editing out mistakes and typos. Previously I would not care about these in a first draft. I just wanted it done. Now I think I am probably saving myself some time later on, and it is also helping me get to know this story and its characters, to feel and breathe with them as they develop and take form. Reading over and checking what I just wrote is helping me to make sure everything stays on course.
- I plan more…I used to plan as I wrote the book…so as ideas came to me, I would jot them down and the novel would often change course and follow twists and turns as I wrote it. I would start, not really knowing how to finish. Now, I try to plan the whole novel before I start writing, chapter by chapter if possible. Not in too much detail, and always allowing for change and development and the surprises which will inevitably pop up. But now I like to be able to see where I am going…I like to know the general destination of my journey.
- I’m aware of my potential audience…This is not to say I am writing anything and aiming it at a certain audience. Doing this with The Tree Of Rebels caused me untold problems (see Did Choosing An Audience Ruin My Book?) so I won’t be making that mistake again. But I do have a better idea of the genre I am writing in before I start writing, an idea of the type of person who would pick this book up and want to read it. I never used to consider this at all, and had a very hard job picking genres and categories for my finished books because of it.
- I write the log line and synopsis first…Now, to be honest I am only just getting to grip with loglines! They are actually quite hard to do. The idea is you should be able to write a one to two sentence paragraph which explains your book, and if you can’t, you may have a problem. The logline can then help you to shape your synopsis. With early novels, I always left the synopsis to last and found them nothing short of utter hell and torture. How to condense a massive novel down to a paragraph or two? What to cut out, what to leave in? How to lure people in without spoilers? How to pick the right key words? Hard, hard work. With the last two books I penned (The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, both still not quite finished) I wrote the synopsis first. I’m not sure why. It just seemed like a good idea, and I had a general idea of what to say, so I went for it. Neither is perfect and both will need tinkering, but overall, I think they both say what they need to say. Lesson learned. From now on, I work on the synopsis first!
- I research as I go…This is another thing I used to be quite lazy about. I was in a hurry. I just wanted to get the book written. So I would make up stuff as I went along, noting down that I needed to properly research it later. Now if something comes up that needs looking into, I do it there and then before I write another word. Again, this saves me time and stress later, and if what I research ends up changing the story in some way, it’s much better to know this early on! Plus it’s fun. I used to put off research of any story because I thought it was boring. Just detail that needed throwing in to make it all sound better. But now I look at it differently. It’s important to the story and I’m also learning new things all the time!
So, over to you followers! Have you always done things the same or have your writing habits changed through trial and error? Does it all depend on the book you’re writing? Let me know!