Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Writing Cheat Sheet

Fight back against Lazy Words, Useless Filler and Bad Habits

Like all writers, I suffer my fair share of bad habits, not least of which is my tossing about useless words like candy at Halloween.  Unfortunately, these words don’t move the plot, advance a character, enhance the setting, or do anything but highlight words that have crept into my everyday speech, and which now seek to weaken my prose.

Here are my personal Top 5 Lazy Words: just, a bit, rather, really, well.

There are more where those came from.  These darn words show up where I least expect them.  Perhaps I should say they show up where I least need them.  They take up space and get in the way, and add unnecessarily to the ever-critical word count.  I spend half my self-editing time finding my Lazy Words and excising the majority of them from the manuscript.

At least, I used to spend half my self-editing time in that way.  No more.

So what has changed to "fix" my problem?  Frankly, I still wage the battle, but I have much more success catching them the first time around now—the very instant I write them.  This is true in no small part due to the Writing Cheat Sheet I created for myself, and which hangs on the wall right above my PC.  There it hangs, day after day after day, screaming out at me as I write, reminding me of my writing Bad Habits.

My Writing Cheat Sheet contains more than just my Lazy Words, but those are a big part of it.  I often pause in my writing to think about what I want to write next, lean back in my chair, toss my hands behind my head, and stare at that darn sheet.  Not intentionally, mind you—it's just there.  I can’t miss it.

Thus, it has seeped into my subconscious and taken firm root.  Now, every time I type the word "just" where it does not belong, I practically scream at myself, "You idiot!  What are you doing?"  Every time I start a sentence with "Well," my hands start to shake and my stomach roils.  In the back of my mind, I can hear my Writing Cheat Sheet yelling, "Hey, knock off all that Useless Filler!"

I would urge you to identify your own Lazy Words, Useless Filler and Bad Habits, and create a cheat sheet of your own.  Tack it up on the wall above your monitor, or to the side of it—anywhere you'll see it over and over and over.  Let your subconscious mind soak it in, and help you to become a better writer.

Feel free to use mine as a model, if you'd like, but personalize it to address your specific issues, as we all battle our own demons.  You'll find it at the following link:

Good luck in exorcising your own writing demons, and remember:
To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn't be lazy.

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