My writing journey is like a rollercoaster. Sometimes it’s great, and I feel exhilarated, feeling the refreshing air against my skin, and adrenalin rush through my body. Then other days, I feel nauseated, experience vertigo, and want to scream and drop the F-bomb fifty times, threatening to kill the person next to me for persuading me to go on the ride. But yet, no matter the experience, I will get on it time and time and time again because I love it. No matter the pitfalls, no matter the learns, and no matter the drama.
Each writing journey is different and subjective, so the more we share and help each other out the better.
Over the next couple of months I’ll be sharing my pitfalls and key learns I’ve experienced along the way. So let’s start with the first one. And something that makes a coloring-outside-the-curvy-lines person like me cringe and hide in the corner.
Unless you’re a grammar-wiz, an editor or maybe even an English teacher, these pitfalls are common and easy to trip over. I know I did. And often still do, but if I can give you the heads up or a starting point for research, maybe you can avoid the mistakes I made. I’d also like to point out here that sometimes, if you’re anything like me, people can tell you something over and over, or you can read something over and over, but it won’t click. Often, we’ve just got to do it, experience the peaks and troughs, and learn our lessons until the lightbulb turns on so brightly we have no choice but to get it. So here we go:
a.) Comma splicing
This is where you add the comma in the wrong place, using it against its reason for breathing. And while we’re discussing breathing, many people use commas as natural pauses. That may be its intention, but it has rules to follow, not ones we get to pick out of the sky because it sounds right.
For example, the following sentence has a comma splice:
He ran toward the trees, I ran behind him.
Here, the comma is used as a breathing pause but that’s not the right way to execute a comma. Why? Because it’s not needed when the two sentences can stand on their own:
He ran toward the trees. I ran behind him.
The comma is redundant, and it’s trying to interfere by taking the place of the full stop. But if a full stop makes no sense or disrupts the flow, you can use conjunctions such as ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘so’ to keep the comma:
He towards the trees, and I ran behind him.
But we shouldn’t be so hard on the comma. It has other uses too. Take a look at this:
Also, Grammarly have created a blog article that explains comma splicing in a way that won’t have your brain exploding—it didn’t with mine anyway so that’s a good sign:
b.) Overuse of unnecessary words
Just. That. As. These words can be off-putting for many a reader because often the sentence will work without them so they become filler words. Sometimes they’re needed, yes. But too many and it reeks of lazy writing. Some people don’t mind them, some people don’t notice them, but once your attention turns to them, you’re screwed because you can’t “unsee” them. The best way to practice this it to try the sentence without the words and see if it still works. For example:
I can’t believe that I hated sushi.
This sentence works without it:
I can’t believe I hated sushi.
So get it gone! Easy done.
You just think I’m stupid.
You think I’m stupid.
So again, get it gone.
Read more here:
‘As’ is another word that can trip you up. But it’s different in the sense it can be a conjunction, preposition or adverb. Check this out:
That means it’s easy to overuse, so where you can try to omit it from your writing. Here’s an example:
He ran toward the trees as I ran behind him. The screams echoed through the night as fear pulsed through my veins. My thoughts were as dark as the night, and I worried we wouldn’t reach her in time as we fled through the forest.
Here’s what it sounds like after replacing most of them:
He ran toward the trees. I ran behind him, fear pulsing through my veins. The screams echoed through the night, turning my hope to darkness. I worried we wouldn’t reach her in time, branches whipping at my face beneath the moonlight.
There are many other ways to write it, but my omitting ‘as’ drags us deeper into the action. On the last sentence, it also forced a different perspective, feeling the person fleeing through the forest rather than them telling us.
However, don’t become overwhelmed with my opinion and that of others. You’ll see so many things on the internet claiming don’t use this, don’t do that, do this, do that. You’ll also discover sometimes, opinions differ and grammar becomes subjective, so stick with this rule: Write what you know, hone what you don’t. In other words, write the words as they come. Tell the story in a way that feels right to you. After that, use grammar software tools, editors, or hit the books. Write first. Edit later. And NEVER think you’re not good enough. Yes, learn your craft, but don’t think because you can’t answer what a subjective conjunction is when someone asks you’re a bad writer. There are a lot of artists who don’t know the in-depth details of their craft. They paint from the heart, from the gut, knowing what’s right and what isn’t from sense or feel. But they still need to know how to hold a paintbrush, what paints to use, what type of canvas, and how well they will compliment one another. Over time, they will hone their craft, learning and growing with their art. And to me, that’s what writing is like. I trust my experience as a reader to deliver something that is readable. If I need help with that with an editor or grammar software, then great! The process teaches me as I go along, and I appreciate the journey of evolution. Yes, do research. Yes, listen to people with experience, but trust your gut on the information you absorb, using what you resonate with to help you learn.
c.) Dialogue Tags and adverbs
This is something that tripped me up in the beginning.
Coming from a naive place, I thought I had to put ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ after every part of the speech. Conversations often went like this:
“I like you,” he said happily.
“I like you, too,” she said, smiling.
“Would you like to go out sometime?” he said excitedly.
“That would be great,” she replied.
It gives you a headache, right? But then, after realizing this, I tried mixing it up:
“I like you,” he smiled.
“I like you, too,” she replied.
“Would you like to go out sometime?” he asked.
“That would be great,” she grinned.
Ugh. Another headache.
But after that, I learned to have faith in my characters:
“I like you.” He smiled, his cute dimples catching her attention.
“I like you, too.”
“Would you like to go out sometime?”
Her heart raced, but she played it cool. “That would be great.”
I omitted the dialogue tags, confident the reader would know who spoke, and incorporated the action to help it along. Check out more on dialogue tags here:
I also learned to drop the adverbs such as:
He said happily.
She said angrily.
I said excitedly.
To be honest, these were easy to lose once I got into it. There’s a lot in the toolbox to replace these, conveying the action either through description or dialogue to replace the adverb:
He said, grinning.
She said, her fists clenched.
I said, my heart racing.
Others I’m sure will say that’s wrong and there’s a better way of doing it. But this works for me. I’m sure as I go along I’ll learn more, change more, but that’s the evolution of a writer. There are many people who are experts on the technical side, but the story has no depth or soul because it’s so constructed. They will have different learns on their journey. No one is born a perfect writer. I’m sure the early works of many successful authors are cringeworthy—just like ours—because guess what? We’ve all got to start somewhere.
I’ll leave it there. I’ve learned a lot through the editing experience, and you will too. There are many affordable options where you can check your grammar if you can’t afford an editor. And a great way to learn subconsciously is to read as many books as you can. Here are the resources I’ve used in the past with both free and affordable options to take the next step when reviewing your writing:
However, don’t dive in so deep where you become overwhelmed and never step on the rollercoaster. Fear can cripple, so don’t allow it to overcome. Use the tools and resources as guides, not dictators. This is your journey after all, no one else’s.
Good luck on your writing journey!
Next time, Pitfall #2 – Passive Voice.