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Old Habits Die Hard

So on Sunday I bought my first iPad, and while I really like my shiny new toy, it served as a harsh reminder of how set in my ways I can be. I keep wanting to reach for a trackpad I knowisn't even there. This got me thinking about other habits, particularly in writing, that we KNOW are incorrect or repetitive or wrong but we can't seem to shake.

So I have a lot of these habits. My copyeditor always points out one in particular - the double spaces after periods. I blame this one on my elementary school teachers who told me this was correct. They ruined me! Now I can't stop doing it no matter how wrong I know it is. I'm now having to consciously think about it in this post. Oy. 

But some of those habits are bigger than others. Another tick of mine is the consant use of the word "just" for no reason. I am constantly finding sentences when I revise that say things like "She just wanted to go home, but it was just too far away." Ugh! I don't even realize I"m doing it at this point.  What a random word, right? I also use "Really" in almost the same way.

And then there are the biggest bad habits - whole turns of phrase or repeated grammatical errors.  One of mine that I really hate is substituting a verb like "shrugged" or "sighed" or "laughed" for "said." So for example I might type something like, "I love this restaurant," she sighed.  Which isn't right. No one talks in a sigh.  It should be, "I love this restaurant." She sighed. Or "I love this restaurant," she said with a sigh. I know that, logically, but my fingers don't, I guess.

These are bad writing habits I've been trying to break myself from for years, with no luck, I might add. But in some ways they are good. They've made me pay closer attention to my words in revisions, catching all the justs and the extra period spaces and the bad grammar makes me look twice as hard at the words on the page. I guess that's a pluss.

Apparently, "guess" is another word I over use.

But what about you? what are your bad writing habits? Have you managed to break any? We'd love to hear about them int he comments!

(PS - I've reached for the trackpad ten times in the process of writing this post. I actually think this means I'm improving!)
Kody Keplilnger

Kody is the NYT bestselling author of The DUFF, Shut Out, and A Midsummer's Nightmare, all from Little Brown/Poppy, as well as Lying Out Loud, Run, and the middle grade novel The Swift Boys and Me, from Scholastic. Born and raised in Kentucky, she now lives in NYC.

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  1. I also have the habit of using "just". It's something I really have to try to stop doing it.

  2. I use "just" way too much too. And "like" and "very". Also cliches motions. I find my first drafts are riddled with cliche motions, like (oops, there we go) "running hands through hair" or "shifting uncomfortably". Ack! Gosh, I'm so thankful there's such a thing as editing. ;)

  3. Many of my craft books say the same thing about the use of very, just, etc. On that "sigh" point, I still think you can say something with a sigh. "I love this restaurant," she said in a sigh." I sigh is an exhale, and one can actually say things while exhaling. Like coughing a laugh. Just another way of looking at it. Oop, used the "j" word.

  4. I use "just" and "that" way too much. I'm in the process of breaking myself of overusing sentences like: ________________, verb-ing _______________. Also, I'm pretty sure passive voice and I will forever be mortal enemies.

  5. I have huge problems with "just" and "guess" as well. I also struggle with passive voice, even though it annoys me to read it in other people's writing. My MC is always narrating "I think..." or "I watch..." Ugh!

  6. My problem is passive voice; if I stop paying attention, my writing just kind of slips sneakily into that tense. I also over use "that" (ie "I wish that I could fall asleep" instead of "I wish I could fall asleep"). The word-count rush of NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo (right now) only perpetuates those issues for me, since they pad my wordcount! :P

  7. I think I have about a million "just's" in my manuscript. When I get to the end I'm going to have to do a search for them all and figure out which ones I can nix. I also think my characters are laughing during... pretty much the whole book. It's so easy to say someone laughed to convey humor. I also feel like every other paragraph starts with either "He" or "I". It's really annoying.

  8. I actually have a lot of the same bad habits, including the double space after each period one. I also enjoy having a character roll their eyes and having body parts move on their own, a la, "My muscles tensed, readying themselves for action."

    These things are difficult to get rid of, but if you know you're prone to doing it, you can at least try to catch them before your first draft hits an editors desk.

  9. I'll start a lot of my sentences the same way and have the same sentence structure, so it ends up sounding repetitive and boring.

  10. It's comforting to know I'm not the only "just" queen. I also favor the word "that." Swear I cut at least a thousand of them in one of my first projects. :) And I too learned the two space thing - that was a tricky habit to break!

  11. My characters always tend to stare. They also like to squeeze each other on the shoulder. Creepy staring shoulder grabbers.


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Item Reviewed: Old Habits Die Hard Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kody Keplinger