I stood helplessly in the grocery store last Friday, wandering in bewilderment up and down what had to be miles of grocery aisles. Everything I could possibly put on my grocery list was right here, but I couldn’t seem to buy any of it. I stared at racks that soared over my head and thought, ‘I just… I just want to make rice krispie treats.’
A little background: each year, my family observes its own weird version of Lent. It’s not a part of our religion, but we’ve decided it builds character. And since we subscribe to Calvin’s Dad’s School of Character, what it usually boils down to is forty days of making ourselves as miserable and deprived as possible. This year seems to be the granddaddy of denial and, guys, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it.
My kids and I have been worrying a lot about penguins and baby turtles and dolphins and stuff, and so we decided to give up single use plastic. This wasn’t a completely naïve decision- I had been working at cutting back on plastics for several months going up to it- but holy guacamole, I don’t know if this is even possible in Fairbanks Alaska. We knew we would have to make exceptions for things like milk and medicine, but this is nuts.
Did you know that paper ice cream cartons are lined with plastic? And really any paper food container, such as shortening or my favorite almondmilk? As well as metal cans and aluminum soda cans? And the looks-like-metal-to-me twist off caps of glass bottles? The stickers on produce? Like everything ever? It makes me angry that I researched this at all because I thought things like glass bottles and fresh fruits and vegetables were safe. What the heck are we supposed to eat until Easter?
The thing is, the closer I look at my habits as a consumer, the more I notice all the ways I am a bad hippie (and, at least this year, a bad observer of Lent). Sometimes, when I’ve done everything I can do and it still doesn’t feel good enough, I just have to make a mental note and move on and hope that maybe, in a more perfect future, this will be fixable.
There’s a writing lesson here too. (I know you were waiting for it. [Although, really, I did just want to complain about plastic. Man, I would do some horrible things for a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips right now.]) Everybody knows that first drafts are pretty ugly little things, and that can be for a lot of reasons. Maybe the characters don’t feel real and layered, or maybe the plot got a little off course somewhere along the way. But one of my omnipresent reasons is the abundance of writing tics that slip in uninvited.
Writing tics vary from person to person. Some people find themselves using tons of brackets, or dropping necessary helper verbs, or writing in passive voice, or using the same three actions over and over. But the common thread is that these are the same sloppy little quirks that sneak into your writing over and over again, without your even noticing them. Drafting from scratch tends to dredge them up the most frequently because that’s when the ideas are first forming out of nothing, producing large streams of text for tics to sneak in with. Drafting is when we are most likely to write the way we speak, complete with all the hedges, repeats, and asides that are totally normal and acceptable in casual speech and informal writing, but less so in a finished piece.
Going back to edit is when I tend to notice my tics. And much like plastic in a grocery store, once I start looking, it’s everywhere. I swear, not a paragraph goes by without someone sighing. If I really want to shake it up, maybe they’ll roll their eyes instead. OR BOTH. But even knowing about the sorts of tics that I gravitate toward, I can’t seem to stifle them when I draft. They’re like dandelions.
Next month is Camp NaNoWriMo. I have been failing miserably at pretty much all of my goals so far this year, so I am determined to pick up the slack and get this thing back on track. I’m going to draft a brand-new story (a side story in-betweener novella in a series I’ve been working on forever), and I’m already anticipating all the funky little quirks that I won’t notice until the editing stage begins.
Your tics and mine are probably different, but just for fun, here are my most common writing tics. Maybe you’ll recognize a few from your own writing!
JUST, A LITTLE, SORT OF Okay, maybe I just like to hedge a lot. (I see you there, Just.) And on the other hand…
A LOT, VERY, SO Same issue, just bigger. (I can’t un-see all these ‘just’s. I’m not doing this on purpose.)
PET VERBS like sigh, pause, grin, and hesitate. Just these four words are probably a pretty good synopsis of most of my first draft stories. Look out for the pregnant pause. (Oh my gosh, there’s another ‘just’. Normally I would fix these, but I’m leaving them in for your benefit. You’re welcome.)
UNREASONABLY LONG SENTENCES It’s not editing unless I’m breaking behemoth sentences down into two, three, sometimes four much more digestible tidbits.
There are definitely more tics. Soooo many more. But at least I’m not quite as food obsessed as I used to be. I’d wedge in these Redwall-esque banquets and I swear, my characters did nothing and said nothing without a wad of food in their hands. Now they just fold their arms and slouch in doorways instead.
How about you guys? Any tics tend to crop up in your writing? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!