7 Signs Your Writing is Weak - Wendy H. Jones


Writing the first draft, or dirty first draft, you should be in the zone and writing like a demon, not worrying too much about word choice for every single word. You are trying to get the overall story down and you can sort things out later. The editing stage comes next and this is where you make the changes to strengthen your writing and your narrative. However, habits often creep in which actually weaken your writing rather than strengthen it, especially with writers at the beginning of their careers. Those of us who are more established shouldn't sit back on our laurels either as we can often fall into the same traps. So, here are seven signs to look out for when you are self editing your work.

Adjectives and Adverbs used as modifiers as though you've been given a free pack and you need to get rid of them. They are used to shore up verbs to make them stronger. You need to completely renovate your verb if a prop is needed to support it. Rip it out and use a stronger verb. Look closely for all those ly words  - actually don't - search for them instead. Equally the word very should also be consigned to the fires of hell and I very much believe that or, in other words, I firmly believe that. 

Dialogue Tags are another pitfall. Characters do not need to shout, bellow, exclaim or even ejaculate (seriously this one has been used). Keep it simple when it comes to dialogue tags. Use them sparingly and stick to said or asked or even answered. The words a character uses or the way they act should demonstrate their voice is loud or quiet. 

Overuse of words is a habit we all get into, especially using the same word at the start of sentences. Beginning sentences with the same words can become repetitive. Beginning sentences with different words is an important part of growing as a writer. Beginning sentences with different words is something you should train yourself to avoid. I know I'm being over the top here with my example but it is done for good effect. How much better does the following sound:

A run of sentences beginning with the same words can become repetitive. Choosing to sort your sentences in different ways is part of growing as a writer. So, train yourself to avoid this pitfall and to make wise word choices.

Writing like you've consulted a thesaurus. This feels like the writer is trying to prove they know big words. I appreciate that often it is in an attempt not to use the same word too often but find some balance. If there's a simple word choice, then on the whole it is better to use it. If the writing is too complex you run the risk of pulling the reader out of the narrative (story) and perplexing (confusing) them.

Using Italics to emphasise certain words are important. By doing this you are doing two things 

1. Showing a lack of faith in your words to carry the meaning in their own right.

2. Treating your readers like idiots. You are pretty much saying your reader is not bright enough to realise the word is important. 

Give your reader space to absorb the words and draw their own conclusions as to what the sentence and the words are saying; there's no need to lead them by the nose. 

Using Capital Letters to emphasise certain words are IMPORTANT. This is even worse than using italics as CAPITAL LETTERS are often seen as shouting when in written form. If you are speaking do you shout every time you come to an important word? 

As an addendum to the last two, there may be occasions when you really do want to emphasise a certain word; if this is the case italics are preferable to capital letters. 

Overuse of Exclamation Marks. Exclamation marks are often used to shore up words which signify emotion. You are telling the reader this is an emotion you should be paying attention to this. If you feel the need to use an exclamation mark either remove it and replace with a full stop, or use a stronger word for the emotion. Have the courage of your convictions and let your words stand up for themselves. Now, don't get me wrong, the odd one is useful but I have seen manuscripts liberally sprinkled with them. Your manuscript is not social media where exclamation marks are used with gay abandon. 

I hope you have found this useful, especially when it comes to self editing your work. I know they help me strengthen my work and readers are grateful for it. I'm curious as to what you find creeps into your writing. Please share, if you dare, in the comments.

About the Author

Wendy H. Jones is an award-winning, international best-selling author who writes adult crime books, young adult mysteries, children's picture books and non-fiction books for writers. She is also a writing and marketing coach, runs the Writing Matters Online School and is the CEO of Authorpreneur Accelerator Academy, The president of the Scottish Association of Writers and hosts The Writing and Marketing Show podcast. 


Ruth Leigh said…
Great advice, Wendy!!! HONESTLY I think your very good advice is very helpful and I think I should think really hard about my writing.

Joking apart, though, yes, bang on. Love a numbered list. Love this.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Glad you found it really, really useful. Glad you enjoyed it. Your example Si outstanding although it did lack a few exclamation marks. Thank you for joining in and I know you would never fall foul of any of these rules.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Glad you found it really, really useful. Glad you enjoyed it. Your example is outstanding although it did lack a few exclamation marks. Thank you for joining in and I know you would never fall foul of any of these rules.
It's great to have this list, and I particularly like your comment about social media - I know I use too many exclamation marks there, but trying not to let them get into my books.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Thanks, Cecelia, exclamation marks do seem to have become more prolific and we need to be wary of them in our writing.
Allison Symes said…
Excellent post, Wendy. Terry Pratchett always claimed the overuse of exclamation marks was evidence of an unsound mind - he was right... and you'll note I've resisted the urge to use one of the wretched things myself there.
Great advice, Wendy! I love exclamation marks, even when I'm speaking. I do take most of them out once editing, and my editor gets rid of the ones I miss...
Peter Leyland said…
This is very useful Wendy. It's important that we look critically at our writing styles now and again. In these non-fiction blogs I like to imagine I'm telling a story to the reader, but the danger is that it can become much too teacherly which reflects my background.
I read a children's novel recently, which was a good story, but did have rather too many exclamation marks in it. It's funny how these little things can drag you down as a reader.
SC Skillman said…
Exclamation marks and over-use of words are my sins, in the writing context.
Reb MacRath said…
Oh, Wendy, how COULD you!!! Now you can never *never* NEVER read my work again!

Some great advice here. But we should also remember that nothing is written in stone. And prose would be a poorer world without expertly used forbidden words--adjectives and adverbs--and other great creative cries of 'Once more undo the breach'of such laws.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Allison, thank you, I'm with Terry Pratchett on this one.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Maressa Mortimer, exclamation marks do tend to sneak in whilst one is not looking. Let's hear it for editors.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Peter, having worked in teacher training, and in academia, I know what you mean.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Kathryn, these pesky exclamation marks get everywhere.
Wendy H. Jones said…
SC Skillman, overuse of words is definitely one of my downfalls. I rarely use exclamation marks fortunately.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Reb, you make me laugh but you are right that you need to make your kind up about what is appropriate in different circumstances
Eden Baylee said…
A terrific comprehensive list, Wendy. Thanks for putting it all together is one succinct blog!

Wendy H. Jones said…
You are welcome, Eden. I’m glad you found it useful.
Wow! Found this very useful! Especially where we don't realise when we lead our readers by the nose with the way italics are used. Thanks Wendy.
Wendy H. Jones said…
I’m glad you found it useful, Sophia.
Sheila Johnson said…
Great share, Wendy. My tutors from university would agree with so many of these points. I learnt a lot about improving my writing techniques but there is always more to learn.

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