Our New Year’s (writing) resolutions

Ah, January – we meet again. Where exactly did 2020 go? Given that the vast majority of the year passed in a blur within the confinements of our own homes and/or fighting over toilet paper in the supermarkets (and that’s only for the lucky ones), it’s easy to understand why the saying “time flies” is particularly applicable to 2020.

So, here we are, at the start of a brand spanking New Year (no discussion of recent events), and there’s only one question we want to ask you – what’s your New Year’s resolution? Or, to be more specific, what’s your New Year’s writing resolution? What’s the one grammatical rule you want to conquer this year, or the one bad writing habit that you’re keen on breaking? We’ve been putting this very question to our own motley crew of monsters, and the responses have certainly been giving the rest of us food for thought. Wonder how our resolutions compare to yours? Keep reading to find out:

  1. Avoid use of unnecessary adverbs: As much as we really, really, really love an adverb, sometimes less is more. Really.

  2. Curb our enthusiasm for superlatives: Superlatives may be our best and most favourite way to make a statement, but overuse can diminish the point being made, and they can also come across a bit vague – simply stating that something is the best doesn’t explain why it’s the best.

  3. Understand when to use “that” vs “which”: Let’s face it – most of us are still guilty of using “that” and “which” interchangeably. The sentence, “My burger, which had two buns, was delicious”, implies that you had one burger that was delicious, and the fact that it had two buns is more of an additional detail. On the other hand, the sentence, “My burger that had two buns was delicious”, suggests that you had more than one burger, but the one with two buns was the most delicious – which is a completely different meaning to the previous sentence. Next up: long division with fish fingers.

  4. Compile a checklist of our personal writing pitfalls: If you’re anything like us, you’ll find that it’s normally the same things that trip you up, time and time again, whether it’s forgetting to check that all abbreviations are defined in the footnotes or that all slide headers are written in a consistent case. Creating our own personal checklists means that we’re less likely to make the same mistake twice.

  5. Know when to hyphen and when not to hyphen (that is the question): A whole chapter could be (and probably has been) written on the correct use of hyphens. Given the number of rules to wrap our heads around (do use a hyphen as part of a compound adjective but don’t use a hyphen after adverbs ending in “ly”), once we’ve got these down, surely the world will become our (metaphorical) oyster?

  6. Understand when to use “compare with” vs “compare to”: The difference here is extremely subtle and has left us scratching our heads on more than one occasion. Typically, “compared to” is used when the similarity between two things is the main point of comparison, while “compared with” is used when the difference between two things is the focus. For instance, “It is easy to compare the vocal styling of Ben Makin to that of Rod Stewart” vs “One would never compare Ben Makin’s songwriting abilities with that of Atomic Kitten.” 

  7. Use double quotation marks to indicate speech: This is as opposed to using single quotation marks, which can help to avoid confusion in sentences with multiple quotation marks. For example, Carl told the Word Monster team, ‘We’ll all be going to the Maldives for next year’s company retreat.’ vs Carl told the Word Monster team, “We’ll all be going to the Maldives for next year’s company retreat.” (Thanks, Carl 😊.)

  8. Use “while” instead of “whilst”: Out with the old and in with the new is a common mantra this time of year, and sadly, this also applies to the use of ‘whilst’, which is now seen as rather outdated. Ta-ra, old friend. Ta-ra.

  9. Write first, edit later: Trying to hold numerous grammar rules in our heads while writing means it’s easy to lose our flow and end up paralysed by perfectionism. Moving forwards, we want to be able to recognise when this is happening so that we can put the grammar dos and don’ts to one side and just allow our creative juices flow, with a promise to ourselves of working through the edits (and our checklist!) once a first draft has been completed.

  10. Choose quality over quantity, every time: This ties in with Resolution #7, and is something we probably all know, but one we definitely need reminding of. We’ve all been there – scrambling to get something out of the door before EOB, sacrificing our final checks in the process. However, more often than not, it’s important to remember that a client would rather have a quality, unfinished piece of work than an error-riddled, “complete” draft. In 2021, we want to make sure that we always factor in some time for ourselves to check through our work and ensure that the t’s have been crossed and the i’s have been dotted, before sending it off.

So, there you have it – our top 10 writing resolutions for 2021. Feel free to hold us accountable come December and see how many we’ve stuck to (COVID will surely be over by then, right?).