Unlearning – find and eliminate those bad habits

Laozi aka Lau TzuThe Chinese philosopher Lau-Tzo (or Laozi), pictured left, said many wise things including this:

To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day

And this was move than 2,500 years ago. I wonder, though, how do we determine what things to remove?

Some context

One of my bad habits as a writer is that I use the passive voice far to frequently – I have other flaws but this is the one I am writing about today. I was reading a post on the Writing Tomorrow blog: Showing More and Telling Less–Avoiding NominalizationsIn some ways this piece (which I think was from JC Piech) raised more questions for me than it answered.

First I didn’t know what a nominalisation was;-) I looked at wiki but in fact found a piece on the whole subject from Queen Mary University of London helped me out. The piece is simply called Nominalisation and suggests it is a strength for academic writers.

I hadn’t made the connection between passive writing and the whole concept of show don’t tell and this will hopefully help me improve in this regard.

Back to unlearning

I wanted to lead off with a picture of Yoda, who is a master of nominalisation and it helps him to sound alien (or alien to sound as he might say). To avoid copyright I avoided using pictures of the Jedi master. He did say this though:

You must unlearn what you have learned

A lot of life (and not just writing) is about overcoming the obstacles that are in our own minds. For me I like to read around a topic and have little eureka moments. I unlearn once I spot a problem (or have it pointed out to me). Nominalisation is the latest of these.

Now, when will I figure out a way to avoid so many parenthetical comments?

Do you nominalise too much? How do you avoid passive writing? How do you unlearn? Let me know!


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