It’s true. Nothing written is accidental. Every unfortunate phrase, every wrong word, every improperly used semi-colon was placed deliberately.
Accidents exist in life. Shit happens and we can’t go backwards in time. We can only move forward. Except that donkey. He’s not moving anywhere.
But writing is not like life because we have control over every last piece of the action. We can go back and change words and phrasing. We can fix grammar. We can play god and rewrite the world (or just that crap second draft). We can destroy. We can create.
Accidents don’t exist in writing. OK, maybe we’ll make a mistake in the first draft. Or the second or the third. But we can fix them! There is no excuse for letting mistakes live. Or worse, for letting them breed.
So how do we kill the mistakes?
We become more aware of the little things. Like phrasing and word choice and how to properly use semicolons. We learn the rules. We pay attention to our tone and voice. Active or passive? Angry? Righteous? Casual? Witty?
And we do it over and over and over and over again until there are no more accidents and all the mistakes are dead.
Positive vs. negative phrasing
Take the difference between positive and negative phrasing, for example. I would not be wrong if I wrote, “Good design isn’t just about color choices.” Alternatively, I could say, “Good design is about more than just color choices.”
What’s the difference? The Translation Bureau of Canada has a webpage dedicated to clear and effective communication. On the topic of positive vs. negative phrasing, they have this to say:
Positive phrasing is easier to understand than negative. You can be more assertive and straightforward when you say what something is than when you try to express it by saying what it isn’t.
Be aware of your phrasing. If clear communication is your intention, positive phrasing is almost always better.
Don’t abuse your tools
Another common mistake in writing made by those unaware of their choices is repetition. Repetition is a tool and, like any tool, it can be abused.
Think of repetition like a hammer. You can use it to nail the point home, one stroke at a time (see third paragraph of this article). But there comes a time when the nail has been hammered all the way in and you’re just slamming that flat metal piece against the wall, doing damage to the stucco. The wall is your reader. Poor reader. That must hurt.
There are many good words in the English language. Try not to get stuck on any of them. Switch it up.
One writer recommends elegant variation to avoid repetition.
“Elegant variations” means avoiding the repetition of words that catch the reader’s attention—that hang in the mind long enough that the reader realizes you’ve repeated yourself.
On the other hand, if used properly, repetition can be powerful. Take this example of parallel structures used to emphasize emotion in dialogue (same link as above).
Sarah glared at him coldly. “I hate you. I have always hated you. I hate your constant whining and your petty, petty ways. I hate every second I have to look at your face, every hour I have to listen to your boorish voice. If hate was a tangible thing, all the ships in your fleet would sink under the weight of a single day of my loathing…and I have endured it for twenty-six years.” She got up and straightened her dress. “Shall I bring in the tea now?”
Writer’s have many tools at their disposal. The above explanation merely highlights some problems with one of them. Don’t stop there.
Nothing written is accidental
I can’t teach you how to write. I can only give you some writing tips and try to show you what you’re doing wrong.
Write with purpose. Write deliberately. Always be aware of your choices.
And kill the mistakes. Accidents don’t exist in writing and mistakes don’t deserve to live.