Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
I’ve had a bit of writer’s block the last few months. I’ve been spending the time productively by going back and editing the series I’ve been writing. It’s more than two million words thus far. Nineteen full volumes, and now that I am writing again, about a twelfth of the twentieth volume. Part of all of this was that I realized one of the stories in the first volume needed to be split and several chapters added. I finally did that. When writing, it’s good to get a little distance between writing a passage (or several chapters) and going back to reread and edit it. This led me to edit through from the very first volume to the last.
When one takes a journey through over two million words of one’s writing, one is bound to notice patterns. Some of those patterns are bad for the writing. In my case, I have noticed that I severely overuse and abuse two words: just and some.
Just is a flexible word. It can be used to mean only, solely, simply, and many shades of meaning that have little to do with meanings such as rightful, fitting, or appropriate, let alone retributive. Sprinkling the word just a bit here or there is not so bad. But in one volume, I had been through about seventy-five thousand out of one-hundred-twenty-five-thousand words with removing or replacing most of the justs when I decided to see how many were left. I had two hundred and nine. It was close to two-tenths of a percent of the words I had in the volume. That was after I had removed most of them from three-fifths of the manuscript. Imagine twenty manuscripts like that. In many cases, I was able to delete the word altogether. In others, I replaced it with a more fitting word. Le mot juste, one might say.
Some is also a flexible word. Sometimes, one needs to use it. But used to indicate an indefinite number of something, it is a poor writing habit. He had some marbles in his hand? How many? Was it five? Was it a whole passel? (Passel, by the way, started out as “parcel,” but lost its R. There are many other words like this, and even names, such as Pusser, which started as “purser.” But don’t worry, those R’s show back up in words such as “marm.” Those school marms are stealing all the R’s.) Was it a handful of marbles? Or only a couple? I found I was using “some” in this way far too often. Unlike “just,” I never counted the somes. There would be too many in composite words as in the second sentence of this paragraph. But as I have been editing, I have become more specific as to how many of whatever there were some of. It’s enough to make one lose one’s marbles.
The problem with identifying my bad writing habits is that they are not mine alone. They are pervasive unless one has been trained by a good writing teacher or one has trained oneself to avoid these errors. Thus, it is as I come out of my burrow to see if I can see my shadow, instead I see just and some everywhere. I have attuned myself to make those words glow in neon colors when I read them, and I can’t turn that off when reading what other people write.
Now that you are paranoid about what you write and how many times you are using these words, have you noticed any other bad habits you have in your writing? (Wouldn’t you like to make the rest of us paranoid about your writing peeves?) Are there words you abuse? Are there other things you do in your writing that you know you have to watch out for?Published in