Bad Habits Can Be Good For You

by sjbgilmour

The other day I remarked how I really ought to make sure I don’t stick the wrong end of the highlighter in my mouth while I’m editing.  I do that a lot.  Pens, pencils, styluses (stylii?) – you name it.  If it’s in my hand while I’m editing, on the phone, reading or anything really, I’m probably going to chew it.  There’s not a pen on my desk or in that busted coffee mug I use as a pen holder, that hasn’t been chewed.  So when I made my off-hand quip, a school chum I’d only just caught up with after 25 years, asked if I was still chewing my pens.  Evidently she remembered me doing it even back then.  Sigh.  If only I’d been memorable for more than my habit of writing tool mastication…

It got me thinking.  There are some bad habits I’m well rid of.  I don’t drink any more.  I don’t smoke tobacco – or anything else for that matter – any more either.  I eat less junk food, even though I harp about it and crave it constantly.  Some habits have stuck around though.  I always carry a knife (even on planes, and I can’t tell you how I do that!) and a torch.  Both these items continue to come in handy.  And, I write.  Legendary science fiction author Robert Heinlein wrote “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”  I don’t know I’d go that far, but can certainly be an anti-social habit.  It requires large chunks of time. Uninterrupted time.  Disturb a writing writer at your own peril.

Sounds bad, but really it’s not.  Most writers will tell you their scribbling is a form of release.  The same can be said for just about any artist.  Of course, others would argue that it’s a symptom, not a remedy because writers and artists can be bonkers.  True, but I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from a conversation with an accountant without thinking the dude needed help.  Engineers?  Don’t get me started.

The thing is, I have bad habits within my bad habit.  I scribble down notes in handwriting so undecipherable, even I can’t read it.  I email snippets without references to myself.  And, I tend to write in a way I’ve been told is bad, bad, bad.  I look down at my keyboard while I type.  I double-space after periods.  I start sentences with prepositions.  I also end sentences with prepositions, but that’s not bad; just a myth many writers base their style (see where this is going?) on.  In fact, I tend to see the rules regarding passive voice and scads of other grammar do’s and don’ts more as guidelines than rules when I write, even though when I’m wearing my professional proof-reading hat, I’m more of a stickler for them regarding other people’s work.

The result of my writing bad habits is a style that’s mine.  Unique.  According to the feedback I get, this style seems to go down well with my readers.  That’s the most important thing.  I’ve read many, and tried to read far many more books written in far more grammatically correct styles that are just plain boring.  I like to see a few rules broken.  I like to see fragments.

So writers, kill your darlings by all means, but maybe, just maybe you don’t need to be so brutal with your bad habits.