27 Oct Scary Writing Habits to Avoid
Halloween may only come every October, but scary writing habits can follow you around like an extra from The Walking Dead for 365 days a year. A few simple written mistakes can undermine your efforts to effectively communicate a clear and concise message, or make you appear less professional than you would like. Worse, like a vampire attempting to thwart sunlight, they can make your audience turn away, leaving your attempts at communication to go for naught.
Here, I’m going to point out some of the more common, yet egregious, examples of mistakes that can be made when putting together an article or blog post. I’ll also give a few tips on how to avoid them.
Ready? Let’s get out our machetes and start mowing down these suckers!
The Buried Story
We all know that zombies rise up from graves, typically with a very dramatic hand shooting up out of the dirt with five fingers splayed. The scientific reason behind this is quite simple – they’re sick and tired of being buried. They want to get out in the world, get to now some folks, eat some brains, have a little fun.
Story topics and themes are kind of like zombies. They don’t want to be buried four of five paragraphs deep into a 600 – 700 word blog post. They want to be mentioned early – like in the first paragraph, which should say to the reader “Look at me! I’m what this story is all about!”
Readers are impatient. They want to be able to scan the opening lines of an article and be able to tell if reading it will be worth their time. This is your chance to hook them and get your message out early. Don’t wait until the article is nearly done to tell your readers about the point you’re trying to make because, by that time, you may have already lost them.
Dr. Frankenstein created his monster by stitching together pieces of other people’s corpses. Sounds great, in theory. Sadly, his experiment didn’t work. Also, he was nuts.
Relying too much on using other people’s quotes or statistics for your article can give you a bit of the old Frankenstein vibe. You’re taking the best bits and pieces of other people’s work, and ostensibly using them to support your theory. Problem is, it’s still other people’s work.
Rather than being a mad scientist, focus on developing your own thoughts, phrases, and, if available, statistics. Provide personal insights into your subject matter, or use data from your company to support your points (surveys, for example, are always a big hit). This will put your own expertise at the forefront and truly make your ideas shine.
If you’re lucky, you might find someone else borrowing from your content and using it to prop up their own dead man walking. If anything, at least it’s a sincere form of flattery.
Séances in movies are always pretty freaky. Bunch of people sitting around a table by candlelight trying to connect with the dead before things start flying around the room – shivers! If that weren’t bad enough, there are the endless questions characters ask of their loved ones – “Is my husband OK? What’s it like where he is? Was it my pot roast that did him in?”
Just like nothing good ever comes from a séance, articles that relinquish true substance for a bunch of questions are doomed to fail. These are the articles that present an idea and ask the reader a bunch of questions about what they might do given a certain situation – without ever answering the darn questions.
Many writers think this approach is clever, but, really, it just smacks of being kind of lazy. Asking questions is fine, but not supporting them with answers just implies you don’t have the answers, which undermines your attempt to establish yourself as a go-to expert. In such cases, it’s better to simply present your argument crisply and thoughtfully, rather than try to challenge your readers with questions you may not know the answers to.
Bullets are great for taking down zombies, but many people tend to overuse them in their articles. Seriously, do you want to really read something like this:
- Thought number one
- Thought number two
- Here’s another point
- One more thing
- Just kidding — I’m just going to keep doing this
- Forever and ever and ever and ever (that’s a Shining reference, by the way)
Don’t get me wrong; used properly and sparingly, bullets can be highly effective at getting your points across. However, too many articles consist of never-ending lists of points. Editors frown on these types of pieces because the writing looks haphazard, and the articles themselves tend to be boring. They come across more like a list of key features from a product sheet — and your articles and blogs should not be product sheets. They should be considered, informed, and creative, with a narrative flow, all things that excessive use of bullets can undermine.
Remember, like spirits, articles live forever through the magic of the Internet and Google searches. You don’t want to spend hours working on something that’s going to haunt you for the next few years. But you can keep those evil spirits at bay by not letting some ghastly practices creep into your writing.