Friday, January 28, 2011

Better Writing Habits - Toxic Words

I subscribe to this awesome little program called the Better Writing Habits Challenge.  Each day for a month they email out another tip, trick, or hurrah that helps to form better writing habits and confidence.  I love getting the new email every day.  A bunch of them have really been helping me, and I plan to go back an reread them often.

Today's email was about toxic words.  Due to my confidence lacking-ness (yes, that's a word.  I say so) in the last few days, I have noticed that I have been using these words more and more often.  I will post a real update about my writing world... soon.  For now though, I wanted to share this article.


There is an icky, creepy bug that may be surrounding your daily life, seeping into everything you do. Without you even realizing it.
That bug is toxic language. And once it gets a hold of you, it slowly begins to destroy, attacking your confidence, your outlook and your writing.

What Is Toxic Language?

Toxic language is anything negative that you tell yourself, especially when it comes to your writing.
It’s words like “can’t” and “should” and phrases like “have to” that make up the toxicity. Words like these take your power away.
When you use toxic language all the time, you are programming yourself to believe it (even subconsciously) and that will start to take a toll on your self esteem.
Using language like this allows the words to control you, instead of you controlling the words.

The Toxic Words That Make Up the Language

There are many toxic words that make up the negative phrases you tell yourself. Here are some to look out for:
  • Can’t–”I can’t do it;” “It can’t be done;” “I can’t be a writer;” “I can’t write this novel;” “I can’t do this, that or the other.”
  • Should–”I should be writing right now;” “I should finish that novel;” “I should write today;” “I should be writing right now.”
  • Have to–”I have to write today;” “I have to finish that novel;” “I have to be a writer.”
  • Impossible–”It’s impossible;” “Being a writer is impossible;” “It’s not possible to get published.”
  • Need to–”I need to write today;” “I need to finish that novel;” “I need to be a writer.”

Breaking Down the Toxic Phrases

The toxic words mentioned above make up the negative phrases you tell yourself. Here’s a breakdown of why these phrases are toxic:
Saying “can’t” kills off all possibilities. The word “can’t” limits you and holds you back.
When you tell yourself you “should” do something or you “have to” do something, you feel pressured to do it. You feel like you don’t have a choice. And that makes you not want to do it.
Same thing with telling yourself you “have to” do something. It makes you want to avoid it.
Impossible is another possibility killer.
And “need to”  causes avoidance because you feel like you don’t have a choice.
The truth is, you do have a choice. It’s your choice to write or not write. And when you start looking at it from that angle, you’ll start to see all the possibilities that exist for you. No more feeling guilty.

Changing the Negative to Positive

These negative phrases do nothing but hold you back and limit you. But you can reprogram your self-talk to no longer include these negative phrases. Here are the positive phrases you can replace them with:
Use “Can” Instead of “Can’t”–You can do anything you want to do. You can do anything you set your mind to do. It’s been proven over and over and over again. So say “can.” “I can be a writer” and “I can write this novel.”
Use “Want to” Instead of “Should” “Have to” or “Need to”–When you use the phrase “want to” you’re making a choice. It’s no longer being forced on you, you are choosing it. There is power in the phrase “want to” because it shows you have a desire to do something. So say “I want to be a writer” and “I want to write this novel.”
What toxic phrases are your removing from your self-talk? What are you replacing them with?
Today’s Challenge: Listen to the language you use as you speak about your writing. Make a list of all the toxic phrases you hear yourself saying. Next, cross each word off and write a positive replacement word next to it. For example, if you use the toxic phrase, “I can’t do it,” turn that around to, “I want to do it” or “I can do it.”
About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is the founder of Procrastinating Writers, a blog that offers guidance for writers who struggle to get started. She is co-founder of the Better Writing Habits challenge.


Trisha said...

I probably use a bit too much toxic language but I still feel like I believe in myself. So maybe it's just me trying to be modest! no matter what, it may not be good for me to be speaking/thinking this way!

Julia Broadbooks said...

I'm really guilty of using should. I should do a whole long list of things, most of which only need to be done because I want them done. I'm going to work on getting rid of that toxic and burdensome word.

Brad Jaeger said...

Great advice, although I'm sure that all writers are guilty of this, to an extent!

Jenni Merritt said...

HA, I am very guilty of pretty much every single one of those toxic words listed. I should be locked away in Toxic Word Bootcamp and have them written right out of me... but since that camp doesn't exist (yet) I guess blogging about them is the next best thing.


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