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If Writing Were Baking…

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

If you were a baker, across three decades of baking you’d have seen a lot of crescent rolls, right? You’d know the recipe so well you could probably bake those rolls in your sleep.

When I hit my third decade in the publishing business as a writer and book editor, I realized I could spot most “bread-baking” mishaps at fifty paces. Maybe, just maybe, other writers might benefit from the discipline I’d learned across the years, I reasoned.

Wanting to keep things light, I borrowed a concept from the Middle Ages, likening the seven most common pitfalls of prose to the 7 Deadly Sins—or Don’ts, as they’re referred to in this tiny book.

Tiny is a key word here because I know you’re stretched for time. We all are. Quick reads are good, allowing you to get in and get out, takeaway in tow. Consider this book a list of seven things NOT to do when writing (each entry flips the title on its head so you know exactly what TO DO for best writing results).

Don’t worry; should you freefall into one of the “don’ts” the next time you sit down to write, I promise you won’t wind up on a ledge in Purgatory. There’s still time to redeem your prose. Every time you practice the craft of writing, your skill increases.

Notice I said craft; writing is just that. Historically speaking, it took years for a journeyman/apprentice to reach the level of a master craftsman, but you can shorten the distance as a writer by following the example of great writers. The more you read great writing, the better writer you will become.

A Little Leaven, Anyone?

As you’ll soon see, most of the items in my Deadly Don’t list are perfectly good words and phrases—even parts of speech—that every writer uses when they compose text. The key is in their usage and frequency. It’s been said that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump”; keep that in mind as you sift through the Deadly Don’ts. For bread bakers, leaven is a necessary ingredient. But throw too much leaven into the mix and you’ll have a big mess on your hands. The recipe requires just the right touch.

Another thing worth mentioning up front is that all writers have a distinct voice (if you haven’t found your voice yet, keep writing; it will emerge over time). Some of the Deadly Don’ts may seem to imply that all writers must write the same way. Of course they don’t. Good writing allows for different styles of writing—some lyrical (think Fitzgerald), some punchy and staccato and lean (um, Hemingway), and others that challenge the definition of the word sentence (Faulkner, please stand up). Yet all three of these writers are revered as great authors.

It’s equally true that writing changes over the course of decades and centuries, and reading tastes change too. Most readers today expect your words to work a lot harder than, say, those of an author one hundred-plus years ago. I’m guilty of this myself. As much as I love a good Dickens tale, I’d be hard-pressed to wade through all 716 pages of Little Dorrit—my favorite of his stories adapted for film (miniseries), but famous for being a hard read.

My advice: take the Deadly Don’ts with a pinch of salt. The reasoning behind this little book is that I see so many manuscripts, both fiction and nonfiction, falter for the very reasons stated below. With a keen eye and a little practice, you can train yourself to turn the Deadly Don’ts into Divine Do’s—and perhaps create your own test-of-time-worthy prose.

I’ve intentionally written this book using everyday language and refrained from stuffing it with grammar rules. If I succeeded in my goal, that approach will make it more readable.

Whether you’re just starting down the road marked “WRITER” or a seasoned pro revisiting the basics, I hope The 7 Deadly Sins (of Writing) reminds you, all over again, of what makes writing so wonderful.

So here, at a glance, are the 7 Deadly Sins (of Writing):

  • Deadly Don’t #1: Passive Voice

  • Deadly Don’t #2: Weak Verbs

  • Deadly Don’t #3: Adjective/Adverb Overload

  • Deadly Don’t #4: “I Began to Start…”

  • Deadly Don’t #5: That, That, That…

  • Deadly Don’t #6: There Is/Are Overload

  • Deadly Don’t #7: Telling vs. Showing

Are you ready to get started? Let’s go!

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