April 7, 2017

4 Habits of All Good Writers

Not to be confused with four writing habits that you need to break out of, today's post is all about four habits of all good writers. This list is not an end-all, be-all list, either, but every good writer is in the habit of doing these four things.

We admit that we’re good writers.

Some people enjoy engaging in activities that they aren't necessarily good at; I am not one of those people. I am not good at cooking, and I despise having to do it. I have never been athletically inclined, so I hate playing sports (unless pool volleyball and mini golf count as sports).
I’m a good writer. It's one of my God-given talents. A solid grasp of grammar and the English language, combined with a strong desire to arrange words in meaningful ways (and a knack for puns), enables me to write well. Think about it— why would I be as passionate about writing and helping others write if it wasn't an innate gift and if I wasn’t good at it? What end would that serve?

Good writers are not afraid to say that they are good writers. They're confident enough in their skill that they're comfortable breaking the writing rules and putting their signature (ha— get it?) on what they write.

We defend our work.

It is inevitable that writers will face obstacles to their creativity and will have to distinguish constructive criticism from artistic infringement. A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece for a publication, and the editors made some serious changes to my work. I've written and edited for enough publications to know that editing is necessary to keep the format and style of the publication, so I was expecting some minor tweaks, even after the one editor told me how great the piece was and that a couple of small changes would be made.

Well, the article was published and... it was like I didn't even write it. Never had a piece of mine been so changed without my knowledge and permission. It was published to the Internet, attached to my name, as essentially a summary of what I'd written. Whomever did the final edits basically pasted phrases that I'd used and added in whatever else to create a whole new article. The worst part, aside from my voice being almost totally lost? There were errors. Errors that I would never have made because I didn't. 

I sent an email to the editor expressing how disappointed I was that my words had been regurgitated. The response? A sincere email that addressed my specific concerns, apologized for any perceived misuse of my work, and offered to run the edits through me next time, should I choose to keep writing for them.  

Moral of the story? Good writers habitually stand up for their work and aren't afraid to call out unnecessary changes and ask questions. 

We use transitions liberally.

Writing without strong transition words is like eating ice cream with a fork— you just don't do it. Sentences flow nicely, your ideas connect well, and readability is better. Pieces that lack good transitions end up being redundant or, maybe worse, confusing. 

We’re not afraid of “small” words.

Wording is one of those things where you have to decide whether more is more or less truly is more. I've read content where the author is trying so hard to impress whomever reads the piece that h/she throws in as many "big" words as possible. What often ends up happening, unless the piece is a scholarly journal or a textbook, is that it sounds overworked and too "try hard." Example? 

The proposed law could impact society for the better, but it should be modified further so that potential negative consequences do not outweigh the positive ones."
The proposed law could benefit society, but it should be modified so that potential issues pose less of a problem."

See what I mean? I've read many a paper in which the author goes with something along the lines of the first sentence, simply because they think it's more academic or will get him or her a better grade. Sorry, but succinct is often better. 


  1. As a historian, one thing I learned is to practice CONCISE writing. Get to the damn point! I can't stand try-hard sentences in any form--academic or blog post--where the writer clearly looks an an ass. Great post!


    1. Thanks, Sheila! Concise writing is critical. So many people seem to think that the "fancier" their writing, the better, but that strategy tends to backfire, as you pointed out.


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