Has Your Writing Become Too Predictable?

photography of book page

Have you written something you hope will spark joy and thought in your readers, but as you re-read your work, a sinking feeling unsettles your stomach? You get a nagging sense of Déjà vu. It’s like you’ve written this before — or something eerily similar. You start to wonder: has your writing has become so predictable that you’re starting to write about the same things in the same ways over and over again?

Most writers experience this sort ofwriter’s Déjà vu at some point. This is why it’s important to occasionally take risks with your writing, If you can’t break the mold here and there, how can you make your work stand out from the crowd?

In today’s writing industry, it’s easy to fall into the habit of using familiar patterns and structures. While these habits can be useful when starting out as a writer, over time you may find that your writing becomes too predictable. Predictability in writing is like always knowing the weather will be cloudy. But, every so often, we can all use the thrill of an unexpected storm.

As writers, we aim to serve a feast for the senses, not a monotonous gruel. Imagine every meal being bland oatmeal, nourishing but utterly forgettable. So, how do we balance predictability in our writing without our work eventually growing stale?

Is predictable writing ever good?

You may be told that predictable writing isn’t bad under the right circumstances. In fact, many fiction and non-fiction writers alike deem some predictability is necessary part of a satisfying read. Using formulaic writing techniques can help readers move more comfortably through an article or even an entire book. 

If every plot twist came out of nowhere, or if every character changed personalities at random points in their lives, most readers would grow frustrated with reading. But while tropes, archetypes, and pop culture references can be helpful, they can’t be the foundational elements of everything we write. Therefore, the question isn’t whether you should rely on predictable writing techniques at all. Rather, how do you recognize whether you’ve become too reliant on them?

Interestingly, especially in business, learning to write copy that attracts customers and persuades them to take action often involves introducing some sort of unpredictability. Using metaphors in your work, for example, can help readers pick up on the fact that you’re onto something important. Whenever you mention something in an unexpected way, readers will pay more attention. But, if you keep writing copy the same way for years at a time, it will eventually stop performing if you don’t switch up your methods. 

How can I tell my writing has become too predictable?

Consider your own writing style for a moment. Do you tend to go for lyrical prose or stick with a straightforward storytelling method? Are you empathetic or cold and aloof as a narrator? The consistent manner in which you write can give your readers a sense of predictability, so make sure you’re not falling into an unfortunate pattern. 

There are other ways your writing could become predictable even if your writing style is not. Have you considered how any noticeable trends throughout your work could cause predictability? Sure, every writer uses certain words over and over again, but there should be no discernible patterns; variety is key. This applies to syntax, too; are you using long sentences more often than short ones? 

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, writing style is useful in helping us to flesh out what we want to say. But, you do need to occasionally keep readers guessing somewhat, especially when you’re trying to tell a compelling story or difficult with a complicated topic. So, it’s occasionally necessary to break the mold with your writing to shake readers from their complacency.

How do you break the mold with your writing? 

The easiest way to achieve predictability is by falling into a predictable rhythm. Some writers naturally find themselves relying on certain writing habits over and over again, like starting every work day with five pages of writing, or always proofreading at night before bed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; there are some great reasons for sticking with what works. 

However, your writing will grow stale quickly if you don’t break out of your comfort zone every so often. To break free from predictability, you must take risks when it comes to structure, tone, or subject matter. But, there’s a simpler way to consistently make your writing surprise and delight.

Take the art of writing as a way to step with your reader into a vivid, immersive environment that engages all five senses. Think about setting your words among a living world of both familiar and unexpected sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings. Too often we’re used to things being too cut and dry, especially with nonfiction, but descriptive setting isn’t just for fiction writers.

Another way to keep your writing from becoming too predictable is to regularly mix up your routine. Every so often, tweak things from your daily word count goals all the way down to which shirt you wear while sitting at your desk. Even the seemingly most innocuous changes in routine can affect your writing in unexpected ways.

Of course, some writers find they are at their best by coming up with ideas in a deliberate, structured manner. There’s nothing wrong with this, especially if you need to be a veritable fountain of good ideas to keep your content engine running. But, even then, don’t be afraid to embellish or reframe some things to make certain ideas memorable.

Why I Prefer My Own Writing to Be Unpredictable

In my own writing, I always find ways to introduce some chaos into my process. As it is, I often ramble on for many pages, getting down as many ideas as I can within a brief period. This is often within the space of half an hour. It’s a useful method for me to sift through my thought process and find ideas that strike me as unpredictable. Where I often go wrong is to produce an unfocused mess with no useful ideas to build around.

I’ve often felt like a fiction writer writing primarily non-fiction. I always want to keep the reader guessing where I’m going next. When I write, I feel unpredictability can create a better end result. But, as answer-driven content has become more sought after, I feel like a bit of a dinosaur. Sometimes, I don’t simply want to answer some mundane question. Instead, I try to lead people by helping them towards other questions they never thought to ask. 

There are tried and true storytelling and narrative techniques, but I never like to play by the book. After all, when it comes to answer-driven article writing, I’m greatly uninspired reading content attempting to answer the same questions ad infinitum. Sure, taking a fresh perspective on something can become immensely hard to do. So, injecting some unpredictability in setting, style, or substance can come in handy. A fresh angle can sometimes be what you need to move conversation forward.

Sure, it can be risky to let your writing take off in new directions. Many writers find it ludicrous to function without operating with an outline. But, I very rarely do, and these supposed plunges into madness is when I discover some of my best ideas. Yes, sometimes the words go nowhere useful, but this happens even when you’re chronically obsessed with outlines. Even if you’re one of those writers who lives by their practiced methods, sometimes you just need to let loose.  

It can be overwhelming to see the sheer volume of words which unbridled brainstorming can produce. Also, it’s often tricky to pare down a stream of consciousness into anything tangible. But, if you edit it all down to the essence of each idea as it appears, you learn how unpredictable your own mind can be.

How to Not Fall Into the Traps of Freelance Writing Norms

As a freelance writer for over a decade, I often was restricted to focusing on a specific topic from a certain angle. Whenever you fall into a pattern of very predictable writing assignments, you stop trying to skirt around the fringes trying to make new connections. Essentially, my career became about writing to please search engine algorithms more than a live audience. The results, while technically sound, felt uninspired to me. 

If you’re unhappy with where your writing is at right now, it can sometimes feel like you should’ve not written it at all. This becomes a trap for many freelance writers: being assigned a topic and basically just commenting on it. That sort of writing process quickly grows stale. Unless you’re writing something strictly technical, there isn’t much reason to be blandly informational and come to a straightforward  conclusion. That sort of cut-and-dry writing just isn’t for me. I have a drive to put a fresh take on whatever I’m writing about. 

I’m most comfortable writing to make readers unsure of exactly where we’re going. But, there’s a delicate balance of losing your reader in confusion and making them think critically. One of the beauties of written communication is that ten people can read exactly the same words, yet come to ten completely different conclusions. It’s also one of the shortfalls and one of the major limitations. No human communication is perfect, nor do I think it ever should be — our varied perspectives are a beautiful thing and keep things interesting.

Closing Thoughts

Still, if you find your writing process growing too stale and predictable, it’s high time you stop and change things up a bit. Sure, if you let the randomness of life’s ebbs and flow dictate where you go with your writing sessions, you may find yourself in some uncomfortable places. As moods shift and opinions waver, though, it’s possible to stay the course while still throwing a few twists and turns into the journey. 

While you can’t break the mold with everything you write, knowing when to be unpredictable can lead you into your next piece of cornerstone content. Don’t be afraid to introduce an unexpected turn that jolts your readers awake. Engage your readers’ senses, immerse them in your world, and most importantly, keep them guessing.

Like a child tasting rain on their tongue for the first time, turn your writing into an adventure, an exploration of the unknown. After all, it’s the unexpected twists and the vibrant details that make a story unforgettable.

~ Amelia Desertsong

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top