Thursday, January 17, 2013

Banish your bad habits from your books



You probably know people with annoying habits like snapping fingers, popping gum and inserting “you know what I mean” between sentences.

Printed pages can reveal bad habits, too. Try to identify yours and purge them from your pages.

Almost every sentence from the mouth of my father, Buddy Marcus, was part of a lesson.

Dad was driven to explain things, but he was also driven to keep talking long after the point was made.

I’m the same way. I’m pedantic like my Pop. I don’t like listeners who cheat and figure out the ending before I perform the finale. I tend to say and write too much to make a point.

One of my worst habits is giving too many examples. My natural tendency while discussing a bakery, steel mill or toy factory is to list six or more items it produces. I’ve given myself a three-item limit, and my writing is better because of it.

I often tell others to “learn when to shut up.” It’s good advice for me, too. Think of some advice you should follow.

Be aware of your eccentricities and don’t let them mess up your writing.

  • Maybe you favor certain words—particularly certain weird words—and use them much too often.
  • Maybe your text is burdened with clichés, especially ancient clichés.
  • Maybe you use too much jargon to impress people with your knowledge. Simpler words could communicate better. Your readers should not have to keep referring to a dictionary.
  • Maybe you use infantile or juvenile terms like “stuff,” “my mom,” or “poop.”
  • Maybe you have an affection for ancient slang like “the fuzz,” “nifty” or “make the scene” that stands out like a sore thumb [that’s a deliberate use of a cliché].
Stick a Post-It Note with a list of your habitual offenses on the side or top of your monitor so you can try to avoid them. 

If you read a lot you’ll probably add to your vocabulary. Try some new words in your writing, and talking.



Pretentious words are just as wrong as juvenile words. Time magazine and William F. Buckley used to deliberately show off their alleged sophistication by using words that few people would understand.

Books are supposed to communicate. When trying to impress readers with your vocabulary, you may actually alienate them.

Eschew obfuscation.


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(from my new book, Self-Editing for Self-Publishers (What to do before the real editor starts editing -- or if you're the only editor). It's an Amazon Kindle e-book, readable on many e-reading devices, including computers. You don't need to own a Kindle to read it.)

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