Is a frozen shoulder killing your writing?

Reading time: Less than 5 minutes

Do you work at beating bad writing habits? Don’t just ignore them! Instead, deal with them promptly — before they become deeply engrained…

I was sitting on a bus last week —one of those long painful rides that seemed to be taking almost a century — when I turned my head and spotted salvation. There was an express bus right behind, that could zip me across town in a fraction of the time.

I exited the first bus and ran for the second. Smash! Next thing I knew, I had fallen. I was lying on the pavement with my lip planted on concrete, my glasses and briefcase a few feet away and my right arm and shoulder crushed by the weight of my body. The fall sounded something like this. Ouch! 

Two concerned strangers came by to help pull me to my feet and ensure I was okay. Fortunately, I hadn’t broken any bones and the biggest injury seemed to be to my pride. But within two hours, my body started to throb like a toothache. My right arm. My shoulder. My palm (which I’d instinctively extended to break my fall). My right thumb, which had been torqued. My neck, which felt as though it had suffered whiplash.

As someone with chronic back pain, I knew I required medical attention. I saw my doctor that afternoon who told me I needed therapy to prevent my shoulder from freezing. I tried reaching my osteopath but her first opening was three weeks away; in the interim, she suggested acupuncture. Yahoo, I had a great acupuncturist who squeezed me in the very next day. 

Dr. Wang gave me just two needles – one in the groin and one in my right hip — and the pain disappeared almost instantly. (He’s done this sort of thing for me before and while I know it’s strange, there is growing scientific evidence that acupuncture can help.) Nonetheless, I also went for traditional physiotherapy, asking the PT to give me all sorts of exercises, which I’ve been doing doggedly ever since. 

But here’s the interesting point. All my practitioners agreed solidly on one fact: It was good I’d had immediate attention. Doing so gave me the best possible shot at avoiding the horrors of a frozen shoulder or a lifelong injury that would only return to haunt me. 

You might wonder what this story has to do with writing. But I think the metaphor is straightforward. Like body injuries, bad writing habits become worse over time. Ignore them and you are building up scar tissue that will only become harder to remove later. Here are five bad writing habits you shouldn’t delay trying to fix:

1-Editing while you write

If you feel your writing is too slow, odds are high that you’re editing WHILE you write. Don’t let this problem drag on. (When I fixed it, I was 45 years old and the habit was so deeply engrained it took me almost six months to obliterate it.) If you want a very quick fix, I suggest writing in 3 pt. type, which will be too small for you to read. And if you can’t read it, you cannot edit it. My latest book, Your Happy First Draft, has an entire chapter addressing this predicament, which offers some extra suggestions as well.

2-Not allowing for enough editing time, later

Many writers I work with simply run out of time for editing. Paradoxically, this is usually because they’ve spent too much time writing (during which they edited-on-the-go which makes writing both slower and more miserable). I always suggest writing as quickly as you possibly can and editing as slowly as you can possibly bear. If you find yourself in the position of many university students (i.e.: leaving essays until the night before they are due) you are bound to have difficulties finding enough time to edit. Start early, write quickly and leave yourself plenty of time for editing, later. Editing — done at the right time — is actually the most important stage of the writing process.

3-Failing to tell enough stories

I began today’s post with a story and I hope that example helps illustrate the value of real-life anecdotes. Most readers aren’t going to be absorbed by theory or facts — they need to be enticed into reading your work with stories. You don’t need to be a fiction writer to employ stories. In fact, non-fiction writers benefit from them the most. As human beings we are hard-wired to value the characters, rising action and tension of stories. If you want to attract more readers, the solution is simple: tell more stories. (Mindmapping is a great way to identify them.)

4-Writing too soon

If you’re facing a deadline, it’s easy to assume that you’re not doing any work unless your fingers are flying over a keyboard. This is completely untrue. Before writing, you need to think, plan and research. And if you haven’t done that work first, then the act of writing is going to be discouraging and dispiriting. It might even lead to writer’s block. Don’t develop the habit of trying to write before you’re ready. Academics, I’ve found, are often especially prone to writing too soon.

5-Failing to allow for enough incubation time

The majority of writers with whom I work tell me they prefer editing to writing. (In the last 40 years, I’ve found the ratio falls like this: 80% of people say they prefer editing; 20% say they prefer writing.) The majority of editing-happy writers are like eager puppies straining at the leash for a walk. They can’t get to editing fast enough. If they’re not doing it when they’re writing (and many are), they do it as soon as they’ve finished writing. No! I say. You need a break.

If you’re writing a book or dissertation, with a deadline that’s a good way off, try to give yourself a break of at least six weeks. Most people are shocked when I cite that number, but my reason is simple: If you edit too quickly after writing, you will not have the perspective you need to be a good self-editor. You’ll be overly familiar with the work. Even if you’re writing a short-form piece with a quick turnaround deadline, give yourself as much of a break as you can — even an hour is better than nothing — before editing. And increase the value of it by doing something distracting (e.g.: working on a different piece of writing) before starting to edit the first one. 

All of the examples I give above are bad habits that will become more resolute over time. 

You don’t want a frozen shoulder, whether the issue is in your actual shoulder or completely metaphorical. If you want to beat bad writing habits, address them right away before they become — as my friend Eve likes to describe —  ‘slow motion’ injuries that lead to writerly scar tissue.


If you want some help developing better writing habits, consider applying to my Get It Done program. I’ll be holding a no-charge intro webinar on Feb. 14/20 and all you need to do is email me to hold a spot. If you already know you want to apply, go here, scroll to the very end and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.


My video podcast last week advised on how to determine what writing advice is going to best suit you. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.


What are your bad writing habits and how are you dealing with them? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Michelle Gaye Dyason, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a Jan. 30/20 comment on my blog. (Please email me with your mailing address, Michelle!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Feb. 29/20 will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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