Thursday, 17 January 2013

Guest Post by Sangu Mandanna: 5 Bad Writing Habits

Today, it's a huge pleasure to have the amazing Sangu Mandanna with us, the author of the amazing The Lost Girl - a brilliant dystopia I'm sure you've heard of and I'm sure you should all read!  Anyway, today we have an awesome guest post by Sangu about her bad writing habits.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Oh, and if you want to find out more about Sangu, check out her website, Twitter and Goodreads! :)
Now, over to Sangu..

5 Bad Writing Habits

And, as someone who falls prey to all five, I can promise you your writing life will be so much less stressful and more satisfying if you can avoid them. The thing is, some of these things seem okay until you’ve actually fallen into the habit. Some of them seem insidiously helpful, even. But they’re really, really not.

1    1.      “Hmm, maybe I should quickly read that last paragraph back…”

Er, no. Don’t. This is my worst habit and it is, single-handedly, the reason I haven’t finished writing a new first draft in over two years. Do not ever, ever fall into the trap of thinking you need to ‘quickly’ check over the last words, lines, sentences, paragraphs or pages you’ve just written. It’s never quick. If you’re writing a first draft of something, and you have no pressing reason to a) send it off to anyone or b) finish that something very soon, there is simply no need to edit it yet. Obsessive self-checking and self-editing during the actual writing process will just slow you down.

It’s what I do. I go back and obsessively check, read and reread almost everything I write. Eight times out of ten I can’t get beyond a few paragraphs, if that, without doing this. It means my writing process is slow. It means I get bogged down with self-doubt and tiny details and lose heart quickly. It means I would probably have a pretty shiny first draft by the end of it all and probably wouldn’t need much more editing after the fact – but that silver lining is simply no use to me when it’s almost impossible to finish that first draft in the first place.

2.     “I don’t have the time to write today.”

Now I’m not one of those writers who says you simply have to write every single day. I don’t think that’s true, or necessarily productive (it hasn’t worked for me, anyway, but if it works for you that’s great!) But I do think it’s very easy to fall into the trap of using time, or a lack thereof, as an excuse. And when you fall out of the habit of writing regularly and into the habit of thinking ‘there’s not enough time, I’ll do it later’, your writing suffers as a result. And there’s always time. Five minutes snatched here and there. An hour before bed when everyone else has gone to sleep. Writing is not always a joy and it’s easy to avoid the tough, boring bits if you put your mind to it. So I believe there is always time, if you choose to make it, and when I tell myself there isn’t it’s usually an excuse I’m clinging to because I feel lazy, I’m tired, I’m feeling disheartened or, most often, I’m just putting off a difficult or tedious task.

3.     “I wonder what my agent, editor or crit partner will think of this…”

On the surface, this seems like an okay habit. After all, you’re being a professional. You’re keeping your audience in mind. You’re remembering that, if you want to make a career out of this, your book will hopefully be in the hands of thousands. You have a responsibility to think about that and take those thousands into account (for writers working on second books, or series, this pressure can be especially intense).

But don’t. Don’t wonder what anyone will think. It is much easier said than done (as someone who still does it, I know this far too well!) but try. Write your book for you, no one else. Worry about your audience, agent, editor and great-grandma later. Finish the book by writing it just for yourself, with every awkward sentence, colourful swear word, graphic sex scene and whatever else you thought was right for your story. If you start pausing in the middle of a scene, thinking ‘oh, I’m sure my publisher will think this is too graphic for YA, I’d better tweak that’ and subsequently making those changes, you will become exceedingly, uncomfortably self-conscious. I am. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to write just for myself and, if you find yourself feeling like you’re writing with someone looking over your shoulder, it can strip a lot of the joy away from what was once a fun, exciting process.

4.      “Rules are made to be broken, so I’ll break ‘em!”

I believe ‘rules’ in writing are flexible. That they can and sometimes should be broken if it serves your story. I think, for example, that it’s fine to use a comma instead of a semi-colon because that comma will show you something about your narrator’s voice. It shows rhythm, tone, it shows the pattern of their speech. But sometimes we break the rules for the wrong reasons and our work suffers as a result.

Some people break the rules out of ignorance, because they don’t know the difference between the usage of single quotation marks and double quotation marks and can’t be bothered to find out. Some people break the rules because they’re lazy. And some people, like me, break the rules because they need their words to look right. The same obsessive-compulsive streak that makes me self-edit so rigorously also makes me stop, fret over and often change a perfect acceptable and correct word to, perhaps, a more elaborate and complicated word just because it looks better on the page. Weird, right?

Nevertheless, there are many wrong reasons to break the rules and doing so puts your work at risk. It makes you – and your story – look sloppy.

5.     “Oh, I don’t need to check this, it’s fine…”

This is the flip side of #1. Obsessively self-editing is a bad habit. But not checking your work at all is an equally naughty habit. My issues with #1 mean I don’t often fall prey to this one, but now and then it does happen. I think ‘I’ve checked this chapter so often I don’t need to do it today’. So I just send it off. Or, worse, I think ‘I’ve written this blog post and it’s now 2AM and I’m tired, so I’ll just send it off now…’

…and the next thing I know, my mistakes and typos are public.

What do you think are poor writing habits? And do you share any of mine?


Thank you so much for the brilliant guest post, Sangu!  It was amazing!
As for my bad writing habits, hmmm… well, they’re probably one and two – I feel the need to reread and double check, and then get caught up in wanting to make changes.  Not so good when I’m actually trying to finish the story!  And I was really bad at finding excuses not to write, until I got a tablet that I can take anywhere and therefore write on anywhere, anytime.  Now I’m more antisocial, though, which is a bad habit plain and simple!
My other bad writing habit is the way I overthink everything: I get caught up in what my characters – minor, minor, minor characters included – would wear, their favourite colours, foods, etc.  Planning your lead is good, but in-it-for-a-chapter characters really don’t need so much planning!  Also, I can never write in chronological order – I write scenes that have no logical place but I feel should go in, because it just explains so much about the characters and world.  Sure, I know my plotline and have most of the first book in order, but what to do with all these little scenes?
Well, those are mine.  Let us know yours in the comments! :D
And thanks again to Sangu - I hope you guys enjoyed the post! :)


Synopsis From Goodreads:
Eva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination – an echo. Made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, she is expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her ‘other’, if she ever died. Eva studies what Amarra does, what she eats, what it’s like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.
But fifteen years of studying never prepared her for this.
Now she must abandon everything she’s ever known – the guardians who raised her, the boy she’s forbidden to love – to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive ...


Sangu Mandanna said...

Thanks so much for having me here today, Megan!

Mary Gray said...

I definitely get caught up in checking my work too much in the first draft. And making excuses. And watching cool shows like Vampire Diaries and Supernatural. I tend to get pretty antisocial, too, though. It's getting harder and harder to just hang out with girls my age or invite people over for dinner. But we can't be perfect, right? Great interview. Thanks!

TheBookAddictedGirl said...

Sangu: Thank you so much for the amazing post!
Mary: But Vampire Diaries and Supernatural ARE amazing shows!! And no one's perfect. :D

Eloise said...

great advices!!!
I'll really need to use number 3!
Thanks a lot for sharing :*

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, I share those bad habits! Great post, and sounds like a good read:-) I'll be sure to check it out~~cheers

TheBookAddictedGirl said...

Eloise: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! :D
Jamie: It is! Thanks! :)