Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Know Your Own Writing Tics

Does writing fiction ever get any easier?  I've done it for a long time, and I can't say I find it any easier to do now than when I first started doing it years ago.  I haven't done a study or taken a survey, but I would bet most writers feel the same way.  If nothing else, the longer you write, the more you come to expect of yourself and what you produce.  You may become more ambitious and want to write longer, bigger books with a larger cast of characters than you ever tried to put into a story before. Or you may want to apply everything you've learned from years of writing to create leaner books and say in 250 pages what you once said, when you wrote in a more expansive way, in 350 pages.  If you're a woman, you may try for the first time to write from a man's point of view, or if you're a man, from a woman's point of view. You may set your story far in the past when up till then, you've always set your novels in the present.  Every time you try to do something new in your fiction, something you've never done before, you find yourself contemplating a new set of problems and challenges.  I'm sure it's similar with painting for painters and sculpting for sculptors and playing music for musicians.  

Still, you learn things from experience. It's not as if you're entirely reinventing the wheel every time you start a new short story or novel. I would say that over time, a key thing I've learned about my own scribbling is that I use certain words with way too much frequency, particular words and expressions, and that when I go back and revise, I find myself cursing at myself dealing with these repetitions.  You wonder how, without being aware of it, you can keep using the same words and constructions.  It's easier than ever to find them now because you can use "Find" or "Control F", or whatever you prefer to call it, on your computer, but there are times I dread tapping "Ctrl" with "F" and a specific word since I know it will reveal to me the apparent skimpiness of my vocabulary and, worse, my lack of facility and inventiveness with language.

But that's where the learning from experience comes in.  It's taken long enough, but now I've come to know which words and constructions I overuse.  Here's a list I compiled when I was working on my last novel, Jack Waters - words and phrases I used with monotonous regularity and that took up a lot of time when I was editing:

one of
two of
most of
any of
in front of
none of
put it
at last
and now
right now
part of
saw it
that’s what
no idea
ponder ways
nothing to do
out of

A great deal of these are words that, when you go back and re-read what you've written, prove to be weak or unnecessary altogether: many, several, some, most.

Others you wonder what is it about your brain that you keep using them.  Why do I keep writing "He started to" or "She began to"  when I can just say what the person is doing.

But my point is that with time, you learn your own writing quirks.  I've noticed that from book to book, I tend to keep overusing the same words and phrases.  The sample from Jack Waters is not all that different from the words I overused (before revising) in the book before that.  Now, at long last, I've become more pro-active and I'm on guard against myself, in first drafts, from overusing "start", "began", perhaps", "maybe", "one of", "almost", and so on.  That awareness is a big help and means less revising of a certain type later.  Naturally, I have to be on the lookout for other phrases I might come to overuse - one can never relax - but being on the lookout for them helps me find these repetitions faster than I used to when I was not so cognizant of them.  

Does writing ever get any easier, even if you do it for years? No, I would say, not overall. But you can become aware of your tics and patterns and the habits you fall prey to unconsciously, and learn how to catch them before you slip into them and thus save yourself time and aggravation.


pattinase (abbott) said...

My most overused word is ever. Not sure why.

Dana King said...

Two related things have become "easier" for me:
1) I'm far more aware of what to be aware of.
2) I know that I'll get trough to the end. I will complete the book.

There was a time when I knew neither. Knowing both makes things much easier.