It’s a well-known concept that writers don’t like rules. And who can blame us? We’re creatives. Art, by its nature, tends to buck the system and break the rules. Tell a creative they have to do something to create their art and they probably won’t be too happy about it. After all, what’s fun about that?
Unfortunately, this laissez faire can also get writers in trouble by encouraging bad habits. While a few writers might succeed by ignoring practical advice meant to strengthen their writing, the majority won’t. I say might because I tend to believe it’s wise to never say never. Bad writing habits can be a threat to achieving the writing life or career you dream of. That said, here are three big bad habits to avoid:
1. Not Studying Craft
Very few writers in the history of modern writing have changed the form of the novel (which is why, like them or not, you should pay attention to the ones who have). But even those that have, like Hemingway, devoured writing craft. Writers should do their utmost to study craft. Writing books, seminars, conferences, webinars—there’s so much information available to writers on how to write these days that ignoring it seems inexcusable.
It’s also important to pay attention to the modern form of the novel. This isn’t to say that you can’t write experimental forms or write in third person omniscient. But it’s important to be aware that where you choose to diverge from the conventional form of novel writing, you invite the possibility of losing your audience. If you do plan to diverge from modern form, you will be expected to produce work that’s brilliant for its form. And that, once again, requires a great deal of study of craft.
2. Not Reading Enough
Writers should be readers. Reading is the single most important thing that writers should do to grow as writers. By reading, writers can not only learn how to write more effectively and the art of good prose—they can also start to identify things that they don’t like. Both are valuable to writing well. Reading also can inform writers about tropes in their genre.
Even if you’re in a reading slump or can’t find much time for reading, it’s important to make time for it. Consider scheduling reading time as a part of your writing schedule. Even if it’s taking only ten minutes a day to read, it’s still better than not reading at all.
3. Not Setting a Schedule
Back in the day, I used to participate in the writing community of a social media platform which I won’t name…and wow, there were a lot of 280-character statements about how many writers were distracted socializing online.
While these statements were meant to be humorous, procrastination and distraction can both be signs that your writing schedule could use some boundaries. Writers with writing schedules are more likely to get their projects finished. It’s much easier to give up on something when you haven’t committed to showing up for it, every day, at a certain time, without distractions.
If certain aspects of your life make that impossible (I’m a mom of five, so I get this)—consider making a writing schedule based off some other metric than time in a calendar day. For example, I tend to make weekly word count goals, rather than daily. I also tend to make a list of goals to accomplish in a month. This makes it easier for me to accommodate with my often hectic-schedule.
The most important part of breaking bad writing habits in my opinion? Acknowledging that you have them. There’s a certain amount of humility that writers should have in order to progress. This will especially come in handy when you start asking for critique feedback! Being able to admit that you’ve allowed yourself to form bad habits is important. And once you do—start breaking them!