If only it were that easy. Our lifestyle (with the physique it produces) consists of countless tiny habits. Try to change them all at once and we're doomed to fail. But focus on one or two little things, and maybe there's hope.
The same goes for our writing. Extra words can easily creep into our prose—then go unnoticed as we edit. What's the harm? But sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, they add up. Those extra, superfluous, unnecessary, redundant words—that duplicate a point you've already made—act like verbal flab.
So in case your New Year's fitness resolution includes more vigorous writing, let me highlight two habits that often bloat our prose:
● Subtle redundancies. He blinked his eyes. (What else would he blink?) She paced back and forth. (Not up and down?) Sometimes we even write triples: He unlocked the door with the key in his hand. Unless your character is a burglar or a spy, why add obvious details?
● Double dialogue attributions. If the context doesn't already tell your readers who is speaking, then supplement the spoken words with either a dialogue tag (Melanie said) or a “beat”/action tag (Melanie put on her coat). But don't make a habit of using both: “Let's take a walk,” Melanie said, putting on her coat.
Two little writing habits—easy to catch as you edit your drafts.
Try looking for just one in your writing this week. Then next week. And even the week after. It might become a new habit. Then instead of having to wear baggy sweats, your prose just might look good in Spandex.