Today, I’m going to share 5 toxic words we should ban.


Not exactly. For three reasons…

  1. As a freedom of speech fan-girl, I will never suggest we ban words – remove from our own vocabulary, maybe. But not ban.
  2. I recommend questioning any advice that includes the word “should” in it. (I explain why in a bit.)
  3. Words that are toxic to my writing life may not be toxic to yours. And vice versa.

That said, I consistently see the same five words poisoning writers. To help you deflect these or a different letter-filled kryptonite, I created a game.

How to Play Word Swap:

  1. Skim each toxic word, the why, and the swap.
  2. Give a thumbs up or down for each: Thumbs up if it’s toxic to you as a writer; Thumbs down if you’re immune and it strikes you as a nitpicking semantic swap.
  3. Pick 1 toxic word – either featured in this post or elsewhere in your writing life – and swap it for the suggestion or your own alternative.
  4. Give this a go for a week or two.
  5. Reward success. Repeat.

Ready to play?


Let’s count down the 5 toxic words.

5. Habit

Quit smoking. Stop procrastinating. Cut caffeine.

See a pattern?

Each statement centers around breaking a habit.

This is toxic because…

More often than not, we associate a habit with giving up a stress reliever or something we enjoy. Then we risk missing what we eliminated so much, we relapse. That and I’d rather give up oxygen than my morning coffee.

Swap habit for ritual.

Picture one of your rituals. How does it make you feel?

I love my morning ritual of free writing while coffee brews. This leaves me feeing relaxed and ready to face the day’s projects and writing challenges.

During my epic bout with writer’s block, I tried to break my inconsistency habit by blocking writing time in my calendar. Didn’t work.

That all changed, when I built writing into my morning coffee ritual. Makes sense. After all…

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Well said, Socrates.

Does it make sense for you to stop breaking habits and start building rituals?

If so, how about facing a writing fear or anxiety by weaving a small step into an existing ritual?


Wait, isn’t this just semantics? Yes. But only if you’re immune to a word that’s toxic to fellow writers. The point of this is to help you uncover words that fuel your writing blocks. And help you swap them for words that inspire progress.

Time in..

4. Good

How do you know if you’re a good writer?

Praise? Social media shares? Hitting the New York Times Bestseller List?

Best selling author, E.L. James, is often criticized for penning sloppy prose. Her fans see her as a good writer. Her non-fans? Not so much.

This is toxic because…

Good is vague and subjective. It’s a word we replace during early rewrites.

So, why do we obsess over whether or not we’re a good writer during sessions with our coach, peer group, or bartender? And why do some of us cringe when we read “must be a good writer” in job postings?

Because of our fear of not being good enough to realize our writing dreams. Damn, there’s that word…AGAIN!

Swap good for passionate or effective or…

Any other word that highlights your strengths and motivates you to hone your craft.

Then channel your inner Florence Foster Jenkins…

“People may say I couldn’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” ~Merryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

3. Can’t

Does your head work this way, too?

When friends or family ask for a favor or a client presents me with a new challenge, my first thought is, “I can’t.”

Makes sense. Our lives are beyond overbooked.

This is toxic because…

“I can’t” frees us to NOT act or step out of our comfort zone…AND miss golden opportunities that can help us live our writing dreams.

Swap can’t for can.

I still react to favors and writing challenges with “I can’t.” Fast forward 30 seconds and I’m working out how I can.

Can’t pen your pet project right now? Before shelving the idea, explore “I can.” A quick free-write session just might uncover tiny steps you can take to squeeze it into your over-scheduled life.

What if your dream client contacts you at the worst possible time? Let “I can’t” bubble to the surface. Then work out if and how you can.

2. Work

What comes to mind when you think of work?

I picture a beige cube farm expanding around me in a windowless office. See me?

There I am, willing my fingers to stop the blinking cursor from marching in place from 9 to 5 each day.

This is toxic because…

Nothing suffocates writing faster than work. How do your words hit the page in those moments?

Mine assemble themselves into stiff, beige-filled sentences. And that’s if I’m lucky enough to string together two coherent words.

Swap work for play.

When I swapped working on projects for playing with them, I experienced major breakthroughs in my writing.

But, writing is a serious profession.

Absolutely. Guess what?

It’s okay to take writing seriously and have fun, too.

I don’t get this idea that serious and play can’t co-exist. Did they have a falling out?

I’m throwing just as many hours at blog posts, Ditch The Block games and client pieces. The difference? I’m relaxed. Projects feel doable. And….I have fun. Oh no!

Oh yes:-)

If you produce better pieces through play instead of work, how can that not be okay?

Which brings me to…

1. Should

A successful author writes, “Here’s why you should post to your blog every day.”

You reach the end of the article thinking, “I should blog every day.”

Should you?

This is toxic because…

Too often we treat should do’s as absolutes as we add them to our ever-expanding to-do list.

We read a writing hero’s success tip and think, “I should do that.” Then we feel guilty, if we flail, because we didn’t follow through.

That and we writers constantly field misaligned should advice that’s tossed out before we’ve shared any details.

I once filled a lull in a conversation with, “I’m looking for a new client, but haven’t marketed in a while.” The response? “Freelancing is unpredictable. You should get a full-time job.”


Worse yet, have you ever sought out an empathetic ear, only to have something like this happen?

Me: “I’m a little slow this morning. My marketing campaign is kicking my butt. My insomnia’s back. And my pot of coffee hasn’t kicked in, yet.”

Well meaning friend: “You should stop drinking caffeine.”

Luckily, I was too stressed, tired, and under-caffeinated to throw him out the nearest window. Friendship saved.

Swap should for could.

Could frees you from should’s marching-orders effect.

When you read something like, “Here’s why you should blog every day,” reframe with “I could blog every day.”

This can deter you from adding “blog every day” to your mile long to-do list before exploring the probability of follow-through. The result?

You just might switch from blogging once in a while to posting consistently once or even twice a month. Mmm…progress!

By the way, could lends itself to a polite dismissal of misaligned advice.

Friend: “You should get a real job.”
You: “I could.” Then casually change the subject.

Well played.

Over to you

What toxic word will you swap? For what? I double-dog dare you to share these with your fellow Write 50 crew members. Your comment enters you in a drawing for a free block-ditching game.

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