I mentioned awhile back that I typed “The End” on Book 9 (and final?) of my Stealing the Sun series. That meant that the first draft was finished, and that I’d sent it on to Beta readers. Since then I’ve gotten it back, made changes I thought made sense and then passed it on to the “final” final stage of copy editing. Time is drawing close!
What’s on my mind, though, he says coyly, are writers’ tics.
By that I mean things we fall into without realizing we are doing so. For example, a few years back I found myself using the terms “really” and “felt” a whole bunch—as well as “was.” I even wrote a post on how I’d addressed it. I added “actually” to that, also. As a result, I’ve tried to remember to add a step into my final process to simple go back and add a step that says once I’m finished with a manuscript I want to go search for those words and make sure I’m not throwing them into places they don’t really need to be (see what I did there?).
The problem here is that these are often lazy words. Word I reach for as I’m chugging along because they come to be without struggling. They can be boring, too. Or at least intense repetition of them can be off-putting.
I should note that, probably as a result of these new steps, my first-pass writing has gotten stronger in relation to those words. I still use them, of course. They are fine words. But I note that I can often feel them coming off my fingertips more easily now, and my reliance on them in first draft has dramatically fallen.
That said, I’ve got a new one. My Beta read came back with lots of positives, a few questions for me to think about, and one glaring comment of (phrasing mine) what the hell is up with all these “thoughs!”
An aside here: I don’t use many Beta readers because I find too much feedback is hard to deal with. Instead, I have a very few folks who I know generally like my work. I use them because I figure that if I’ve hit them I’m hitting my usual target audience, and if I’m totally missing them then I need to take a serious look at what I’ve done. This also means that my Betas read a lot of my work and, hence, are familiar with me. When one says something like “what’s up with…,” they are seeing something new.
Anyway, when I reviewed the manuscript, I saw that comment was spot-on. So, my next pass included a thorough search for “though,” which had the side benefit of bringing in “thought,” which is another potentially distancing word. I paid attention to these things as I did my final read. The final result: to the best of my ability to use the search function, my original manuscript had 149 instances of “though.” The one I sent to copyediting had cut that to sixty-seven—a 55% reduction. The writing is stronger now (IMHO).
But it’s got me thinking this morning, as I sit down to make more new words, how my use of words and phrases has changed over time, and how I still need to be diligent about the details. In my quest to make lots of words, I can fall into bad habits. I think most of us have tics that we fall back on when we’re not paying attention, and one of my learnings today is that those tics can change.
It’s all “fixable” as long as you see the problem, though. I suspect going forward I’ll be as diligent about my use of “though” as I am about my other points of focus. And I suspect that attention will mean my first drafts will be cleaner (in that way, anyway).
That’s a thing about life, too, right?
The first step in making changes in yourself is seeing the problems as well as you can see them.
So, yeah. Many thanks to my great Betas, but specifically today to the one who most definitely didn’t use the exact phrase “what the hell is up with…” in her fantastic feedback, but who almost certainly thought it.