Breaking Learned Writing Habits

As students, we go to college and attend classes because we think it will help us attain a better career and be more productive in our futures. While that may be true, Copyblogger’s Jonathan Morrow reveals that we also learn bad habits in school.

“I think most good writers listen to the way English teachers want them to write and think, ‘This isn’t real. It has no feeling, no distinctiveness, no oomph. You’re the only person in the world who would willingly read it. Everyone else would rather chew off their own eyelids than read more than three pages of this boring crap.’ And they’re right,” he says. “Personally, I think good writing…[has] to be interesting enough that other people want to read it. Much of what comes out of our high school and universities fails this test, not because our students are capable of saying anything interesting, but because a well-meaning but flawed academic system has taught them bad habits,” he adds.

Morrow shares seven bad writing habits learned in school:

  1. Trying to sound like dead people: while Morrow refers to the classics as “great,” “if you want to make a connection, you’re much better off studying the hot writers of today,” he explains.
  2. Expecting someone to hand you a writing prompt: in the real world, “no one besides you makes the final decision of what to put on the page,” he says, “the act of deciding is what writing is all about.
  3. Writing long paragraphs: “nowadays, most paragraphs should be a maximum of three sentences. It’s also a good idea to include some shorter paragraphs with only one or two sentences to punctuate powerful ideas,” Morrow explains.
  4. Avoiding profanity at all costs: it’s best to be “‘plain and direct,'” even if that means using profanity where you see fit.
  5. Leaning on sources: “what [people] want to hear is a new perspective on a favorite topic.”
  6. Staying detached: “if you’re a scientist, engineer, or a doctor, then maintaining your role as a detached observer is a great idea,” Morrow says. “For everyone else, though, it’s a disaster.”
  7. Listening to the authorities more than yourself: “no one but you is an authority on your writing.”

I really recommend reading this article for yourself. I found it really refreshing, and many of Morrow’s ideas really resonated with me. After all, at my internship this past summer, I can’t tell you how many times I sat down to write a release and found myself thinking, “okay, what’s the prompt?,” or reading over a finished document and thinking “wow, this is well-written but there is no life in these words.” I feel that breaking a lot of these habits is the key to my future success as a writer and a future PR practitioner.

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