Ask Becca: The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing

by Becca Jordan
published in Writing

“I’m a relatively new writer and all of this advice is kind of overwhelming. What are the most important ‘don’ts’ I should avoid in my writing?” – Mark H.

Copping to a fault is tough. We all want to think that we’re gifted by the heavenly virtues of writing and that our right to write is ordained by the gods. New writers are especially prone to the seven deadly sins, but even if you’re a seasoned professional, you might be sinning in your writing right now and not even know it!

Give yourself a good ol’ fashioned spiritual introspection with these seven deadly sins of writing:

Lust

Your fictional characters aren’t real. You can’t make their road any easier to travel—and they won’t sleep with you at the end of it. Not even if you buy them a drink.

New authors tend to love their characters so much that they pave their roads with gold and place designer cupcake stands along the way. While this might be a pleasant situation, that’s not a story. A story demands conflict. Bad Things must happen to your characters.

So give them real struggles. Stuff pebbles in their shoes and put dragons in their way. Make them so flawed that they write themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place. Make their journey so difficult that your own characters wouldn’t sleep with you.

Not even if you buy them two drinks.

Gluttony

There’s nothing less impressive than someone trying to be impressive.”

Bigger is better, right? WRONG. Stop rolling around in your own genius adverbs, lusciously languishing in purple prose, or stopping every other sentence to contemplate the meaning of life. New writers (I am guilty of this, too) like to show off how beautifully they can shape words, to the point of stuffing too much sugary-sweet sentences down readers’ throats.

And worse—sometimes we can meander through a narrative without getting to the heart of the conflict. New writers and old tend to start the story too soon, languishing in character-building before anything actually happens.

Don’t glut your story with unnecessary words. Start the story as close to the main conflict as you possibly can. Trim up that baby fat and your story will be a leaner, meaner fighting machiner.

Greed

Have you heard about those hoards of money that await the willing writer?

Me neither.

Going after the writing gigs with money will get you a paycheck, but it won’t necessarily build your career as an author. Don’t get me wrong—I know a lot of very happy ghostwriters who are making bank and twisting their mustaches with railroad-baron-y glee* (*Dramatization).

But most writers I know want to not only write as a profession, but write what they love. Here’s the bad news—the only way to do that is to write what you love for free. Eventually you’ll write what you love for a pittance, and work your way up to just under minimum wage. I’m not saying don’t make money! Please, do make money! Because food and shelter is generally a good thing!

But just be careful of selling yourself out at the expense of your career goals. And sometimes that means avoiding the path laden with sacks of gold.

Sloth

We all get to that point in the story where we know exactly what’s going on and exactly what’s going to happen. It can be tempting to glaze over the details with bits like, “And then they fell in love with each other, and it was great, and everyone was happy about it.”

I’m looking at you, fairytales. “Happily ever after” just doesn’t cut it.

Here’s the quickest fix I know for lazy writing. “He was tall and handsome” is about the most boring thing you can possibly write, but it can be a little better if you delete that “was”—a “to be” verb—with something a little more exciting. “He stretched so high that he nearly bumped the ceiling” certainly gives a much better idea of what this guy looks like!

Don’t let your brain become a couch potato of lazy description. It’s hard work to get your readers to see exactly what you’re seeing in your mind, but you can do it. You’re a writer.

Wrath

One of the Big Six publishers didn’t like your work? Are polite turn-downs and civil rejections only adding fuel to the inner flames of wrath?

Raging at editors or sending snide remarks to people who didn’t accept you can really be tempting, especially since you’ve worked so long and hard on your story. I’m here to say: Don’t do it. Set the rejections aside. Throw them away. Burn them for all I care.

But do not—I repeat, DO NOT—reply to that rejection. Writer’s Wrath will turn around and bite you in the proverbial @$$ someday when that editor you exploded at tells all her friends: “There was this one guy who sent me this email…”

Envy

Envy is a many-headed beast that always rears up when least wanted or expected. Here are some different sides of writerly envy:

Covet not what publications your neighbor has. Writers are generally a very supportive community, but then there always is that bad seed. Don’t be the bad seed. Congratulate writers on their successes and know that one day they will congratulate you in return.

Covet not your favorite author’s ideas. When writing, the gripping stories and highly-acclaimed successes of your favorite authors can sometimes get to your head. You might think, “Heck, I’m better than that writer. I can do that,” and then write a dystopia in which children are forced to fight to the death. Don’t do that.

Be original. Be uniquely you. Write only the stories you can write, and take pride in your work.

Pride

But not too much.

Trust me, your first draft is never, ever, not in a hundred billion years ready. Not even if you’re super famous with a six-figure advance.

So please, save yourself and the poor publisher some embarrassment and don’t send your finished piece out right away. Let it simmer for a while. Get some critiques. Rewrite and edit. Read this article. No one is ever too good to swallow some feedback. It can only make your work better.

Constant vigilance! Once you are aware of these deadly sins of writing, you can train yourself away from them and make your writing—and your career—100% better.

Got a question? Tweet me @beccaquibbles with the hashtag #askbecca, email me at becca [at] DIYMFA [dot] com, or just leave a comment below! You could see your question answered right here at Ask Becca!

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17954_292577539573_730389573_3174566_5206294_nRebecca Ann Jordan is a speculative fiction author and artist in San Diego. She recently won Reader’s Choice Best of 2013 for her short story “Promised Land” at Fiction Vortex and has published poetry and fiction in FlapperhouseSwamp Biscuits & Tea, Yemassee Journal and more. Becca regularly columns for DIYMFA.com. See more from her at rebeccaannjordan.com. (link to site)

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