Whether you are using an auto correct program on your laptop or PC, or whether you have readers constantly pointing out some of the same errors in your stories, chapter after chapter…there comes a time when you need to take an honest look at your writing and your bad habits…and make a personal ′low-light′ reel for yourself.
This is the opposite of a highlight reel, where you look at what you′re really good at and examine the best parts of what it is you do. That′s a good thing to do, and it keeps you inspired and pushing yourself towards excellence. But sometimes, a low-light reel helps a LOT more when it comes to reaching that higher goal of being a better writer.
When you′re putting a story together, I always stress comfort and natural flow over everything else. Follow your heart, let the words flow through you, and whatever mistakes you make along the way…fix them in editing after you′ve poured your emotion out on the screen in its most potent form. Get the emotion out first, while you′re still in the moment. That′s the most important part. The mechanics? You can fix and tweak those later, and hopefully give your story the shine and gloss that it deserves.
However, if you look at your project, and you′re constantly misspelling the word ′privilege′ or ′separate′? You should make that a part of your low-light reel. It′s not just a typo or a random error. There′s an actual problem there. The sooner you get a hold on it, focus on it, and work to correct it…the sooner you can break that habit. And the sooner it will cease to be a problem, slowing your writing process down.
We′re on the internet! We have access to every spelling, definition, tense usage, known to mankind. If you′re writing off the top of your head, and you feel like you′re in a particular groove at the moment and don′t want to stop…write it the way you think is correct, and make sure that you come back later to look for it when you start the editing process.
As I′ve said in a previous writer′s article, I don′t think any author should just type out a story and then hand it over to an editor to ′fix it′ without going over it and doing some self editing for themselves first. Not ever. This isn′t your editor′s story. This is YOUR story. Own it. Go through it. What mistakes have you made? Have you made them before? Will you make them again?
Keep track of your mistakes, and do two or three minutes worth of research to correct your flaws so you can take them off the table as obstacles on the road to you being the best writer that you can be. Google it. Commit certain spellings and punctuation use and turns of phrase to memory. Copy and paste them into an email if you have to, so you can easily bring them up and remember, ″Oh yeah…I always spell the word ′occasionally′ with too many C′s or S′s or L′s, and I need to keep that in mind when I′m writing from now on. Don′t depend on your writing programs or your editors to catch your consistent mistakes. You′ll only make their jobs harder, and you won′t end up learning anything in the process. So those weaknesses will remain until you work to fix them yourselves.
In a lot of my earlier stories, I would often use the phrase, ″All of the sudden″. Or I used to write ′outloud′ as one word instead of two. And I thought that was perfectly normal. But I learned after a while and after some constructive comments that I was doing it wrong. So, I looked it up. I had a few minutes to spare, right? And, lo and behold, I had been doing it wrong all that time. Out loud is two words, and it′s ″All of A sudden″. So I had to try to add that to my loooooong list of grammatical errors that have repeatedly appeared in my stories from the very beginning. After creating a low-light reel for myself, I now keep a conscious and watchful eye out for those same mistakes. And even when my muse is on fire and I′m in a writing frenzy…when I get to one of those areas, I stop and think, ″Wait…let me make sure that I get this right on the first try.″ And eventually, I create new habits. Corrected habits. And everything becomes natural, to where I don′t have to look out for making that error anymore. THAT…is how you step your game up to the next level, one baby step at a time.
Something else to look for on your low-light reel? Cliché phrases that you may use over and over again, and don′t even realize it. Now, I have seen this in a lot of other writers′ work, and I′ve seen it in my own, so it can be difficult to notice unless you′re actively searching for it. When I say cliché phrases, I′m talking about those easy to rattle off ′connecting′ phrases that we may all use in casual conversation, but come off as unimaginative and unimpressive when you see it written in a story on the screen more than once.
Some of these phrases are:
″As a matter of fact…″
″If I had to be honest…″
″Well, before long…″
″On one hand…On the other hand…″
″I′m not going to lie…″
″You know what I mean?″
″If I had to guess…″
And of course…″All of a sudden…″
Now, I′m not saying that a writer shouldn′t ever USE any of these phrases. Just realize that it has become such a part of starting or ending a sentence in everyday conversation…that we may end up using it multiple times in our stories as well. And with the written word, it is MUCH more noticeable! If you often use the term, ″As a matter of fact…″ to start a sentence or to make a statement in your everyday speak? Go to your story, use the ′find′ function, and see how many times it shows up in your project. If it′s more than twice…then that may be a habit that you want to break. It might not be a full fledged crutch…but you′re definitely walking with a ′limp′ there. Hehehe! Make yourself aware of it, and try to find other ways to say the same thing, or find a way around saying it at all. If your audience keeps reading the same phrases over and over, it becomes tiresome. Get rid of anything and everything that makes you come off as anything less than AWESOME! K?
Another thing to look out for? The themes and plot directions for the stories you write. I wrote a ′One Life To Live′ article not long ago, and depending on who you are and what you′ve experienced in your life…you should take that into consideration as a writer. You′ve only lived one life, so you only have so many experiences to draw from. Some of you have been rejected in love before. Some of you have been cheated on in a relationship, or have been abused, or have had to make difficult discussions about whether or not you should come out of the closet, in the past. Now…this pertains mostly to writers who write multiple stories, either at once or one after another…but if the themes in your stories seem to be recurring or repetitive, try to change that up as well. This is something that I occasionally struggle with, myself. So if any of you guys have any advice on how to effectively accomplish this, please respond below and let me know! Hehehe! There are themes in my stories that repeat constantly, and I have made an attempt to avoid most of the blatant tropes that I′m known for, but there are some more passive elements of my stories that pop up again and again from time to time. The fear of coming out, the single mother, the feeling that the boy you like is out of your league, etc. Just like the cliché phrases I mentioned above…these things are hard to spot until you deliberately go looking for them. Something that I′m doing more often these days. (Wish me luck!)
So, take some time to make a mental note of all the places where you may stumble as a writer. What words do you have trouble spelling, what phrases do you use more than is necessary, what common themes do you have running through every story you write. Self analyze, figure them out, and then make an effort to correct those bad habits when you′re writing. If you have to make a physical notebook or web page dedicated to the things that you feel you need to keep in mind…do it! No harm in that. Keep it close to you, and practice until you have it drilled into your brain where it′ll stay as a practical part of your writing process.
It won′t take long. Promise. And you can knock these constant errors down one at a time.
Hope this helps you guys out with constantly getting better at your craft! And I wish you happy writing! ((Hugz))