New year, new you. That’s the marketing message of every food, fitness, and fashion retailer from December 27th onwards (once they’ve finished convincing you to spend the last month drinking, eating, and wearing sequins to excess). Your timeline is now overflowing with sponsored posts featuring thin soup and equally thin women writhing in ecstasy at the mere sight of salad and a low-fat yogurt.
Fortunately, you can be a new person without three miserable weeks of calorie counting. And our advice won’t mean you feel guilty for binge eating a 14-piece Bargain Bucket after a grim day of celery and not much else. You can create a new you by dropping these five bad writing habits.
Your blog will benefit, your Twitter threads will become more engaging, and you’ll develop new writing habits that will leave you filled with pride, rather than gnawing hunger pangs.
1.“I don’t have enough time to write!”
Deadlines loom, you can’t remember the last time you saw Inbox Zero, and lunchtime is now resigned to 3.30pm because you just don’t have time to leave your desk. So, you simply can’t spend time making your writing not crap (even though you could if you tried).
Choosing writing as your lowest priority is not doing you any favours. When writing is rushed and careless, it’s all readers see. The hard work of researching or strategizing disappears behind a wall of bad grammar and poor word choices.
The solution: In the words of fitness instructors the world over, stop making excuses. If you change your attitude to acknowledge the writing part of your role is as important as any other, you’ll find the time. If you genuinely can’t find a few minutes, use this as an opportunity to reshuffle your workload… or your priorities.
2. Writing for your ego, rather than your audience
Writing has a habit of making people prone to self-indulgence. Wandering copy that seems hilarious while you’re writing it, but ultimately has zero value for the reader – kinda like my opening paragraph.
Edit Content Writer, Mady Ritzker, puts it best: “You might think you’re being really funny or poetic, but that doesn’t mean people want to meander through your self-serving babbling.
“That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with using creative writing, but you need to be honest with yourself about whether the choice of words is useful, and if it’s serving a purpose for the reader.”
The solution: Stop writing for yourself, and start writing for your audience. If they wanted humour or poetry, they’d read humour or poetry. There are some exceptions: certain writers are naturally talented at creating marketing copy that has a natural flow. But for most, it’s better to leave your desire to be the next Charlie Brooker for your personal time.
3. You don’t know what a conjunction is
An easily fixed bad writing habit is using a conjunction that doesn’t make any sense in the context of the sentence(s). Content Writer Jen Derrick gives a great example: “A big bugbear for me is when writers start a sentence with the word ‘But…’. It’s quite a lazy way to link two sentences together, and often the idea doesn’t connect to the previous line.”
A conjunction (‘and’, ‘but’, ‘because’, ‘until’, ‘or’) is used to connect two ideas together, either within one sentence, or across two sentences. Therefore (conjunction alert), you should try to mix up the way you start a sentence, unless the sentence is connecting two ideas together.
The solution: Really think about the words you’re using. You’ll catch these misplaced conjunctions during editing, so make sure you read back everything you’ve written before sending it anywhere. Read The Oxford Dictionary’s guide to conjunctions for a better understanding.
4. You’re! Way! Too! Excited! About! Exclamation! Marks!!!
We get it, you’ve been asked to make your content more fun. So how exactly do you do that? This is the question that plagues all content writers, and the only thing I can say for certain is that the answer isn’t aggressively replacing full stops with exclamation marks.
Exclamation marks aren’t a fail-safe indicator to a reader that you’re trying to come across as friendly and kooky; they can’t be used in place of a tone. Words are infinitely more important whether you’re trying to stress a point, be enthusiastic, or desperately trying to convey fun.
The solution: Content Writer Jordan Fletcher says: “Avoid using exclamation marks unless absolutely necessary… especially if your writing isn’t funny.” Think about the true meaning of an exclamation mark; are you genuinely exclaiming in the last sentence you included it in? If not, delete.
5. Writing like you’re being paid by the word
As I write this final poor writing habit, I am hyper-aware of how long this post is. Writing concisely is far harder than rambling, but in 99% of cases, less is more when it comes to word count.
Charles Dickens was paid more the more he wrote, which is why all his work physically ages the reader as they struggle to get through the Victorian dross. We’re in the 21st Century now, living in the actual future, and few writers are paid per word anymore, so don’t be a Dickens. Keep it short.
The solution: Content Marketing Manager, Richard Cartey, explains how to cut short extra-long copy: “Making your copy concise is something anyone can do. Go back to the piece when you’ve finished and cut out the fluff. Be brutal. It always makes it better and you don’t have to ‘know how to write’ to do it.”
Gina’s bonus tip: Learn how to write ellipsis properly
It’s ‘…’. Three dots. That’s it. Don’t try and build suspense with more than three dots. Three is the rule.
Feels good to get that out of my system…
Get in touch @edit_agency with common writing mistakes and habits that really grind your gears, or with the writing mishaps you’ve been guilty of. We’ve all been there!