So, like, you know, last weekend, or sometime, I was reading this thing I found about writing and how, like, were all making these horrible mistakes, and, like, making ourselves sound way dumb!!!!
Beautiful, wasn’t it?
Ok, so we are all probably better than this eloquent example, especially if you’re reading this particular blog… but the fact remains that we are all probably making at least a few mistakes that we don’t even realize we’re making.
Are you a victim of one of these terrible errors?
This one is probably the opposite of the example at the top of this post, but it’s one of the most common (and commonly missed) writing mistakes.
“I came home and fed the cat before getting a sandwich and going to bed.”
Technically, there is nothing wrong with this sentence… it’s just boring. Maybe its fine for a dry report that has no purpose other than conveying information (police report, anyone?), but there is nothing in it that would attract a reader.
Now, check out this version:
“The cat was screeching when I got home, so she got her dinner before I got my sandwich. With a full tummy and a quiet kitty, I decided to turn in for the night.”
See? The same point was made, but this sentence has just a little bit more of “that something” we all like to see. Readers might continue to the bottom of a post with this voice.
Actually, You’re Really Using Too Many Adverbs
As writers, we’ve become far too fond of our adverbs. When used correctly, they can make us sound smart and well-read… but a little goes a long way.
Read through your last ten blog posts and count how many times you use “actually,” or “literally.”
I’m guessing you counted way higher than you thought you might. I did.
Really, completely, absolutely, totally, fortunately… these are all good words. The problem is our tendency to overuse them in an attempt to emphasize a point. In that attempt, we often step all over our original point. Ironically…
Another problem with these words is the way writers tend to use them not incorrectly, but inaccurately. Many people use “literally” to emphasize a point that really wasn’t literal.
We all have words we use repeatedly, and most of us don’t even realize it. There are the obvious writers, who use “like” in, like, every other sentence… then there are those of us who have more subtle words and phrases that sneak in when we’re not paying attention.
My own vice is “probably,” and in writing this I noticed that I had done it again. To make my point, I’m not going back to edit them out… I’ll leave them there for you. Some writers use variations of a word (subtle, subtly, subtlety) in an unconscious attempt to cancel out the redundancy. Sorry! We’re not fooled!
While this one doesn’t make a huge difference in our writing or the way it’s read, remember that overusing a word or phrase in a noticeable way can detract from the rest of your work.
Not Painting a Picture
When you read, there is an image in your head of the scene you’re reading about. When a good writer describes something, that scene is vivid and clear. A writer who doesn’t describe a scene fully causes the reader to stumble.
“The girl was a real beauty, with her wild hair and eyes.”
Don’t mistake this as a great descriptive sentence. “Wild hair and eyes” may seem descriptive, but really just leaves the reader with a fuzzy image of an attractive, but faceless girl.
What about these phrases instead? “copper hair that tumbled past her hips,” and “flashing blue eyes with a hint of green.”
Now you have a real picture of the beautiful girl.
Things that make you go “Huh?”
Always, always re-read your work.
Don’t skim it. Don’t just search for mistakes. Truly read it.
You’re looking for phrases and sentences that are uncomfortable… those that don’t just roll off the tongue. The key to good writing is making it a pleasure to read, and trying to decipher a single sentence takes away from a whole piece.
Here’s an example of an uncomfortable sentence, “Kameron’s eye quickly found a startling discovery.”
This would have been much easier to absorb, “Kameron quickly found something startling.”
The second example still gives the reader all the pertinent information, makes the writer’s point, and doesn’t require a second glance to translate.
Have you been inadvertently sabotaging your own writing with one of these mistakes? I know I am guilty of a few!