Re: 7 Bad Writing Habits You Learned in School

Replying to: http://www.copyblogger.com/bad-writing-habits/

@Shane Arthur:

Your comment about MMA is incorrect.

No rules were flipped or combined. It was actually Vale Tudo (NHB) that ushered in the older ways of combat through removing all the rules.

By “older”, I mean during the time when combat skills were still combat skills and none of the watered down “self-defense” mantra which can be afforded to be watered down because combat was no longer life or death.

Vale Tudo returned that to being life or death. It wasn’t some magic formula that created great rules for hybrid combat sport entertainment.

Eventually as the sports evolved, it had to be more sustainable (to market champions) and then you got each company’s/country’s context of what MMA rules are.

The comparison further breaks down if you have been keeping up with the controversy surrounding the recent Lyoto Machida vs. Shogun fight where majority of the MMA sites and fans scored it for Shogun but Lyoto won the unanimous decision.

In order for Jon’s post to be even remotely comparable, he would have had to at least combined J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and Seth Godin’s writing style – shake it into a single post – and then write a novel length blog that wins awards and show everyone why said rules work as opposed to just telling the rules by writing a (blog length) howto guide.

I’m not saying Jon’s article doesn’t get to me because it doesn’t appeal to my sense of an authority (In fact, I don’t like his picks) but he made some straw man arguments that would be too long to list but one example, for example:

He criticizes people who leans on sources and at first it seems he’s right until he lists novelists, talk show hosts and marketers.

Are these the people who have jobs that need them to be informative and use sources?

What’s next? Talk like Bill O’Reilly and you too can become a popular news “reporter”?

I’d also like to suggest one additional habit based on Cecily Walker’s post:

“To become a better writer, study the work and craftsmanship – not just the stories and prose – of your favourite writers. Try to write like them if you’re just starting out, and as your skills mature, try to write *better* than they do.”

I’ve often been accused of being poor at communicating and writing long posts but I feel the above quote represents a similarity with a fundamental drawing advise that really change my mindset.  (I’m also a bad artist btw which is why I felt this advise was good.)

The original art advise is to draw blind. To see and draw the shapes rather than to look at your drawing.

The quote above exemplifies this kind of mentality except it’s more related to art tracing but I never found tracing to have helped me.

To me, it’s really the issue of bypassing the critical self rather than mimicry which made “drawing blind” better for me than “tracing”.

Which is why I propose one added bad habit rule: The fear of murdering your darlings before giving birth to them.

I think if you’re a bad writer like me, it’s too easy to think: “What can I add to make this post interesting?” – before you finish writing the post.

Still… that is leaning more towards the age old advice of Edit! Edit! Edit! (which I hate btw because it completely doesn’t work when you’re writing a blog or a forum post because you have to keep it short and usually more people care if you write for the web rather than write for content unless the subject involves expert [which usually just means popular] advise and howtos)

The rule goes beyond that. It’s more about the idea that masses don’t want to read long anything (including irl)

They prefer to be emotionalized by videos, short blog posts, link blogs, up voted posts, 1 on 1 coaching, software, etc.

Counting double if it’s just an opinion on a forum or a blog.

But writing is writing.

If you botch it up, following the “Murder your darlings” advise only means you have to edit your “writings” until they become both informative and clear enough.

But writing’s rarely that. (even outside the web)

A million people with below expert level knowledge for example can often sell a book because they transformed their “opinions” into fiction and used it as a way to create “well-developed” characters.

A million+ people vote non-informative videos on youtube because it’s “cool”.

A million+ people read political articles through the presence of a “keyword”.

but what if, not only, are you unskilled but the stuff you are writing about simply “doesn’t work”?

What I mean by this is rarely do guides emphasize the failures of sticking to one media and to edit (not think) “beyond a box”.

Even when they do, what is the message being sent?

The ones I encounter often present it like new ways to market and advertise.

That’s not false but rarely do guides often emphasize the bad habit of wasting a post on a forum when you should be blogging, or blogging a post you should be improving through images rather than “word edit improvements” or even cutting up posts not because they’re too long but because they can be better told as a novel or a movie or even a software program.

The idea seems obvious because often times when the thought strikes you, you often attribute to a case of “I should market it this way” or “I should do that AND write it like this anyway”.

BUT!

If you’re an unskilled communicator with other bad habits, it’s a conundrum.

A puzzle that you don’t know how to figure out because you’re ignorant of many things and you don’t know where to start and you have other things to learn and you have other ideas to write about that you’re not sure how much you should stick with this topic.

(Imagine it being worst if you don’t know how to freely backup and archive your notes because you’ve never written something long like that before and had no friend to reference to!)

Yes, I’m a HS drop-out and I really didn’t have any college friends that showed me their award winning novel or project and the amount of work they put into it.

It’s too easy to read these howto articles and shut your brain off in favor of just improving your writing because “No Pain. No Gain.” instead of “No Brain. More Rain.”

@Sasmus

“Appreciating these guidelines should also improve a reader’s appreciation of what is a quality argument and what is crap. I’m talking about the difference in tone (an indication of an author’s respect or lack of respect for an audience and/or subject) and accuracy (quality sources) between PBS’s Frontline and Rush Limbaugh, for example.”

I agree with the intent but let’s be honest. Frontline is more informative than Rush Limbaugh but is it really better by alot?

Beyond accuracy and tone, there still has to be interest which is part of what Jon is writing about.

You can’t just turn it around and say “Well, it’s up to the people to be interested” because even Frontline is edited.

My post here though isn’t to just nitpick at your examples though.

I think another bad habit (although this one is not exclusive to writers) is the idea of rooting for the lesser junk.

If most people simply agreed on high-quality academic writing and high-quality creative writing, nothing would have evolved.

In fact, highly praised and accurate news reporting would have never lost to sensationalistic news reporting if this were the reality.

That’s rarely the case though.

Often times it’s much easier to praise The Daily Show if every other American MSM is bad. (Yes, even go so far as to treat it as news.)

Why?

Because just as demand for blogging has thrown a wrench in the wheels of “journalistic standards”. often times in writing; the rules are schmules… err… schmucks. They create elitists that resists change in these so called rules until the society enters a paradigm shift which messes up the whole quality of the rules. (The proverbial once grandpa and grandma dies and little Timmy’s girl grows up watching Hannah Montana, it’s suddenly “kewl” effect while the older ones praise the “good ole days” and anyone who knows how to manage the skilled can generate content that’s king by appealing to this new generation until the quality sinks so bad, the cycle repeats itself.)

@zoekmachine optimalisatie

“A tactic that I’ve read about (but haven’t tested yet) to increase writing speed is to use voice-to-text software.

But besides increasing writing speed other reasons for wanting to try that is to avoid sounding like a dead person.

Because when you’re talking:
– you already put more emotions in it
– you almost never use profanity
– usually it makes more sense
(happens to me all the time: I’m thinking what I want to say and I type it. Then when the post is done I read it and it doesn’t make any sense at all…. sigh)

Maybe there are more reasons to try it, but hey…. I’m not writing a post right now so there’s no reason to overthink this “

IMO, you’re better off reading the text itself and imagine reading it to one person.

Maybe if it’s important enough, you’re better off treating it like a speech and re-editing it.

Voice-to-text can be so… expensive and impractical. (There are horrible speakers known for being great writers for example.)

@Jon

“Most readers don’t judge the credibility of an author based on hyperlinks. I’m not saying it’s wrong; I believe that we would actually be better off if everyone did demand lots of links. But they don’t, and that’s the world we live in. Also, please understand that I’m not against giving other people credit. I’m against letting the ideas of others get in the way of your own.”

Come on! This is Copyblogger.

You guys are supposed to be the guys that can teach guys like me how to make these stuff interesting to people who aren’t interested.

What’s up with the “the world we live in” bit? :p

@Elizabeth

“Technical writing seems so much easier than writing good, compelling copy because we’ve be taught it since we were young. Although it may be easier to write in a detached manner, no one wants to read it because it doesn’t grab them. By allowing some of yourself to come through in your writing you show your readers that you are human too. It’s amazing what that small connection can do.”

I disagree. I wasn’t taught technical writing when I was young. As Jon implied, dead man writing does not equal technical writing.

At best you can call it traditional writing marauding as technical writing.

I mean seriously, most people don’t think of the technique behind those until they meet up and use what they find necessary and forget the rest.

How often do most of us think about the techniques behind technical writing when we’re writing?

Exactly.

If technical writing was really about technical writing, those rules would have been polished and made easier to explain instead of just be formal rules that “might” “one day” be used to better communicate.

Hell, if technical writing was really that good they should have had made official sets of it for multiple cultures already.

(Here’s your Chinese technical writing Ma’am. Don’t forget to swing it downward when you’re fighting in “The People’s Republic of China” but swing it sideways when you’re in “The Republic of China” cause that’s how we traditionally teach it here in MMA McDojo /sarcasm)

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