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Don’t Make These 5 Writing Mistakes

cliches writing

Okay, “mistakes” might be a little harsh. Some of this is subjective.

And I’ll admit that, when it comes to writing and words, I’m easily annoyed.

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you might remember my lists of annoying and disgusting words.

Maybe I respect the English language in some weird way, which leads to projecting my expectations on to other writers. I don’t know. This isn’t a therapy session, though, so I’ll get on with today’s post, which, of course, is about writing techniques that annoy me.

I know you didn’t ask, and you probably don’t even care, but here I am sharing anyway.

Don’t do this stuff:

Use unnecessary periods for emphasis.

You’re trying to emphasize a point, so you say something like:

“My stress level is off the charts right now. Off. The. Charts.”

OR

“Oh. My. Gosh. That apple pie was so amazing.”

OR

“John’s naval always protrudes from under his shirt. There. Are. No. Words.”

Don’t do this. Please. Stop.

Use white space to increase drama where there is no drama.

I’m a big fan of short sentences.

They add white space and make it easier for the reader to scan the page.

That’s great.

But it’s also a lazy way to attempt to add drama to your writing where there is no drama.

No drama.

For instance, imagine me telling you about a tree in my front yard.

The tree has leaves.

The wind blows the leaves.

Sometimes, a leaf falls to the ground.

Sometimes.

Sometimes, though, the leaf remains in its place.

On the tree.

Above the ground.

Foliage is awesome.

Use big words where big words aren’t needed.

George Orwell said, “Never use a long word where a short one will do.”

In writing, bigger is rarely better. With the exception of academic writing, larger words and longer sentences are usually a sign of amateurish writing.

While reviewing resume cover letters recently, I saw a lot of writing like this:

“I endeavor to utilize my writing expertise in a manner that brings vitality and originality to the content team in your organization. After freelancing for a multitude of multi-faceted, multi-national companies, I feel exceptionally qualified to communicate to your diverse audience in a variety of tones and styles that, I certainly believe, will match your pre-established criteria of exceptional, superior content.”

You lost me at “endeavor.”

If you’re a writer, your goal should be to communicate in a concise way. Get in and get out.

Build the great wall of text.

This is the opposite of using white space to increase drama where drama isn’t needed. The problem with this “technique”—if you can call it that—is that any level of drama you have within the copy gets lost inside this giant wall of words. Your reader needs to breathe. White space is their visual cue to take that breath. So if you just keep writing and writing and writing without building in any natural break points, you make it exhausting to read your copy. When writing for the web, I believe most paragraphs should have no more than three of four fairly short sentences. That keeps the writing fresh, at least visually, and it allows your reader to scan through the content easier. Because if you think someone is going to read a 1,000 word piece that you’ve broken up into two or three paragraphs, then you’re going to be disappointed. So do you follow me? Do you see what I’m saying about these walls of text? Aren’t you just aching for a breather at this point? Have you even read this far? Do you want to punch me? Okay, I’ll stop.

Write cliched marketing copy. 

If you’ve spent five minutes on the web, you’ve probably seen something like this:

“Are you tired of reading the same books over and over? Do you want to spice up your reading life? Then you’ve come to the right place! 101 Books is your one-stop-shop for all things books. This life-changing blog is on the cutting edge of the book blogosphere. Here’s what reader Joe Smith said about 101 Books:

‘I love 101 Books!’ – Joe Smith

That’s great, Joe! And what about you, reader Jane Smith?

‘101 Books is awesome!’ –Jane Smith

You’re even more awesome, Jane!

So what are you waiting for? Subscribe to 101 Books today and watch all your literary worries float away!”

***

So what’s your take? Am I overly sensitive or does this stuff annoy you too? Did I miss anything?

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38 Comments Post a comment
  1. Brandon #

    #2 is what I hated about The Book Thief.

    Was it fate?

    She dropped the book

    She knelt.

    The book thief howled.

    The style left me cold.

    I couldn’t immerse myself.

    It was so choppy.

    Too much drama.

    Couldn’t handle the drama.

    Like being poked in the eye.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
    • Thank you for the short review. I’ll never read this one.

      Like

      October 18, 2013
    • Thanks for this! I was going to pick up a copy of this yesterday but decided not to. Now I know that I made the right choice!!! Thanks a lot!

      Like

      October 18, 2013
      • No! Don’t say that! Give it a chance–it’s all just a part of getting to know the narrator (Death), who’s way of thinking and thus telling the story are different than ours. I LOVED this book and everyone I know who has read it also loved it! Of course that doesn’t mean you will love it also, or dislike it just because someone else disliked it. Just decide for yourself.

        Like

        October 18, 2013
    • I disagree I loved that book! the spacing can get a bit much but it is a brilliant book and its not meant to be completely eloquently written, its a child’s tale!

      Like

      October 21, 2013
  2. Great post! I also really hate the unnecessary periods. That’s a new thing that I didn’t experience growing up. Similar to cliches I also hate platitudes, especially in private communications. I’ll admit that I have trouble with the great wall of text. I try to find places for a natural break but that often doesn’t come until after several lines. I need to work more on this.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  3. Overuse of commas is a big one for me. I couldn’t get through Twilight not only because it was a bad story, but because of all the commas. So much easier to break it up into sentences.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  4. Good post. I made a list of 10 words that must go away, over-used and I can’t stand. http://reviewbooksandmore.com/2013/07/31/top-ten-over-used-words/

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  5. You’re definitely not alone. I see so many of these offenses every day, and they drive me crazy, too. Used VERY sparingly, they can work if employed in an unexpected fashion, but most of the time, they just scream “SKIP OVER ME!” I would add one more thing, though: Fake folksiness, especially when stuck in the middle of “straight” copy. Golly gee whiz, that’s annoying!

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  6. All those things annoy me, especially using big words or longwinded sentences – aka ‘fluff’! If you don’t speak like that in real life, then please don’t write like that. Also, writing in capital letters and overuse of exclamation marks (I am totally guilty of the latter, but I do try to reign myself in). Now, I have to stop writing this comment due to paranoia over my writing style :)

    Like

    October 18, 2013
    • It’s really common sense, but I think I started becoming a better writer when I decided to simply write like I talk. That’s how you find your “voice.”

      Like

      October 18, 2013
  7. You must be right, because I find your writing style makes for compulsive reading- even if I do come away from your blog humbled and thinking “My writing is terrible. I need to just stop.” Sigh. I really need to work on #4. And probably #5.

    Although (re your list of annoying and disgusting words) I still don’t understand why “It is what it is.” is any more irritating than “Shit happens.” Or C’est la vie.”

    Like

    October 18, 2013
    • Thanks for compliment, but please don’t stop! That’s not the point of the post. Every writer has done stuff like this at some point, myself included! In fact, I suck at writing marketing copy so I don’t even try because most of my copywriting would sound like the example in #5.

      #4 is an easy fix. Just look for little breathing points if your paragraphs are running too long. That’s not really an writing issue, though. The writing is there…you just need to format the text in a more readable way.

      Like

      October 18, 2013
  8. You nailed it!!!!!! and please, I like exclamation points very much :-) lol but to be serous here, I hate big long complex words in a long paragraph, I just wont read it…..

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  9. I don’t think you are overly sensitive or anything. I hate most of these things as well.

    I don’t even think “periods for emphasis” should be in someone’s writing style (i.e. in a published book). It’s a way people would “speak” maybe, or write in a personal blog or journal, but I just can’t imagine it in some kind of narration. It would look too amateurish, in my opinion.

    White space can sometimes be as tedious to go through as big walls of text, at least for me. It sometimes gets to a point where the sentences are just so spread out that the whole thing makes no sense anymore. I try to avoid both mistakes while writing posts for my blog. I have recently written many long posts (800+ words, which is long for me) and I was afraid they would look to bulky. I think they turned out okay, though.

    Too many big words in one sentence or paragraph make it just… full, you know? I think it loses the point. When there is one big word in the middle of a normal paragraph, it kind of emphasizes on that word.

    Great article as usual! Keep up the good work!

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  10. I use periods for emphasis, but only sparingly and ONLY on my blog. I’d never do that in my writing/fiction. I also use short sentences, but again, sparingly and mostly on my blog. They are good for emphasis and white space, but I agree about their overuse. It can be too much.

    You’re not sensitive, you’re sensible. There’s a big difference.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  11. This is where we have to disagree. The English language is like a symphony to me. It rolls, it flows…in the hands of the right conductor, it can build to a crescendo that takes the reader from where he/she is to a whole new world.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  12. Noted and I shall try harder in the future. No need to go off upsetting the masses. :) Have a great weekend! This was well written and made me laugh. :) Are you okay with smiley faces? J/K…… It’s the drawn out …..(periods) that drives me kinda crazy.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  13. I think the one that bothers me the most is the great wall of text. I get tired and start just reading the first and last sentences of the giant paragraphs. I miss so much scenery description that way…

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  14. Mine is using several exclamation points where one will do. Is it really exclaiming louder if you put five exclamation points vs. four? Also, hate when chapters end in the lazy: “Then all hell broke loose.” Unless Beezlebub himself opens the next chapter I don’t think so.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  15. varambilaaan #

    Reblogged this on varambilaaan.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  16. Re: #3, I actually don’t see an issue with this. I keep getting told that so many resumes are put into databases and have keyword searches done on them to filter out the chaff that it seems paragraphs like the example are necessary to get into the door for an interview. I could be wrong, but all the guidance I receive for job applications point me to using such elevated language.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
    • I should clarify that I was helping hire for a writing position. A professional writer would never write like that. At least I wouldn’t hire one that did.

      Like

      October 18, 2013
  17. Reblogged this on Hello from me to you and commented:
    tips on writing

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  18. Great.

    Post.

    Thanks!

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  19. I can understand getting that godawful cover letter from anyone but a writer. I’m horrified.

    Horrified.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  20. Reblogged this on Rosevoc2's Blog.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  21. I completely agree about the periods, and short white space sentences!

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  22. Gee. Now. You. Tell. Me.

    Like

    October 18, 2013
  23. Reblogged this on Let's pretend I'm not insane.

    Like

    October 19, 2013
  24. When I see “The Great Wall of Text,” I simply click away. Great post!

    Like

    October 19, 2013
  25. Funny how many writing rules/conventions I break. Anarchy FTW!

    Like

    October 19, 2013
  26. Jeepers. I must be out of touch with modern fiction or is it young adult that I have never seen 1 and 2. This post had some helpful incite to help improve my own writing though I don’t think I could use white spaces as a technique. It would drive me crazy.

    Like

    October 19, 2013
  27. I don’t think that you are overly sensitive. I think that you touch on some great points, I especially hate when people try to “show off” with garbage like your resume example.
    In my opinion if you are applying for a job as a communicator you should write in a clear and concise manner.
    Good post as always!

    Like

    October 20, 2013
  28. If I see a lot of the unnecessary periods I start reading it in a valley girl voice in my head.
    It could be Shakespeare but to me it’d sound like a Sweet Valley book!

    Like

    October 22, 2013
  29. I get annoyed by all of these things as well. Sometimes extra spacing is beneficial and sometimes big words can be part of a character’s personality. Usually, however, these habits just get in the way of the content. Especially the excessive use of periods. There’s. Just. No. Need.

    Like

    October 25, 2013
  30. Reblogged this on Luicho's Blog and commented:
    Good tips!

    Like

    November 4, 2013
  31. Points duly noted sire! :P

    Like

    November 17, 2013

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