When one writes on any sort of regular basis, it’s pretty easy to pick up certain habits. When it comes to putting together a novel however, some of those habits can drag your work to a grinding halt.
One of the biggest problems with bad habits is that we don’t always realize we have them. Worse yet, sometimes we can fall under the assumption that they are actually good habits. If your novel is ever going to have any chance of getting off the ground, you’re going to have to identify those habits and do away with them for good. Here are five of the more common writing habits that can kill your novel:
Lack of Mental Planning
All stories should begin in your head. I am not aware of a single example where someone sat down in front of their typewriter or computer and an award winning novel suddenly flowed out of their fingertips. Yet many people approach writing this way, and inevitably end up staring at a blank screen, or worse yet, putting together a nonsense scene, unsure of where they are going or what they are writing.
While it is true that inspiration will most likely occur within the writing process itself, you need to have at least some basic idea mapped out in your mind beforehand. How will your readers be able to visualize your story if you haven’t taken the time to visualize it yourself?
One of the deadliest and most common bad writing habits is procrastination. If you have hit a creative roadblock, it can be difficult to work up the inspiration to hit the keys. Unfortunately, this is not one of those problems that will disappear on its own.
No one is going to write this story for you.
An organized writing schedule can be a great way to stave off procrastination. Find the time that works best for you to write and try to stick to it at least 4 or 5 days a week. Again, have some ideas in mind before you ever start writing. Your novel won’t be nearly as difficult to face if you already have some thoughts in mind before you sit down and start typing.
Though this may be the most controversial entry on the list, I personally hate the concept of self-imposed word count requirements. If you are forcing yourself to pen a set number of words, (say 3,000), a day, you will more than likely begin to focus too much on meeting your required number of words rather than the story itself. You run the risk of becoming a “word counter”; the equivalent of watching the clock at a 9 to 5 job.
Self-imposed word counts and similar exercises can often become “writing chores”. Rather than writing because you want to, you’re writing because you “have to”.
Don’t get me wrong: there are definitely times when you have to push yourself to write. I find however, that it is much more beneficial to commit yourself to simply writing.
Don’t worry about word count, page length, or story progression. Remember: Three well written sentences trump three forced chapters any day of the week.
The next time you are feeling somewhat low on ambition, try this: figure out what area of writing seems the most manageable at that moment.
–Maybe that means tightening up some dialogue in Chapter 3.
–Perhaps it’s working on that climax scene that’s missing some punch.
–Maybe it’s some good old-fashioned grammar checking.
Whatever you feel you can do right then, do it. Often times, this will “prime the pump” to get you back on track.
Another factor that runs the risk of stirring some controversy is the concept of strictly sequential writing, ie beginning with Chapter 1, then writing chapter 3, 4, 5, and so on. To me, this is a very restrictive and creatively stifling way to put together a novel. Obviously there are benefits to this method, but I find more often than not writers become bogged down in a particularly difficult scene and the story flounders.
As mentioned in the previous section, you should write what you are feeling inspiration for in that particular moment. Maybe you got a great idea for a scene that takes place three quarters of the way through the story.
What’s stopping you from writing it right now?
If you have already done the “brain work” ahead of time and have a rough outline for how the story is going to progress, what’s stopping you from jumping around in your own story? If you force yourself to write strictly sequentially, you will often find that you have rushed certain scenes to get to others that you are excited about.
Finally, one of the most damaging and gut-wrenching writing habits that can kill your novel is overprotectiveness: loving your scenes, characters, and storylines too much to be open to honest criticism.
When it comes to story building, every writer must come to the difficult revelation that no area of their work is sacred. Every area must be left open to criticism, reworking, and editing.
Look, I get it: no one wants to hear their baby called ugly. But sometimes you have to do the hard thing; you have to “kill your darling”. One of the best lessons you can learn is to take nothing personally when it comes to your writing. Your novel will never make it off the ground if you are not willing to make the tough choices to make it everything it can be.
At the end of the day, bad writing habits can be hard to break. Many times, we are not even aware that we have them. If you make a point to work at them however, you will find noticeable improvement over time. Novel writing is a process which requires continual change, molding, sacrifice. If you make it a point to put forth the best work you possibly can however, you will find the satisfaction you take in your work will only increase.
Jonathan Vars is a Christian fiction writer from New England, and founder of the writing website voltampsreactive.com. His latest novel “Like Melvin” is currently available on Amazon and Google Books. In addition to writing, Jonathan enjoys running, hiking, and trying not to freeze to death in the winter.