Writing ‘tics’

You may have noticed by now that I am big on drafting.  This weekend I was at Thesis Boot Camp run by @MelbSchGradRes and @PGEMElbourne; and it was all about generating the 25% Shitty First Draft. People were worried that their writing was repetitive, that it was conversational, that it was ugly.  That’s seriously not a problem at this stage.  However, of course, the things you do to get your writing done, later become the exact same irritating things you must remove from your writing before other people read it.  Lots of students got feedback from their supervisors that said, ‘Don’t do that, it’s irritating’, or ‘you don’t write well’; whereas the feedback ought to say ‘That was fine for your draft, but take it out before I read it’.

One of the things that helps me generate text is a writing tic.  I find getting started on the next sentence is often a real heave of effort.  In order to avoid that heave, I write extraordinarily long, convoluted sentences (easily a whole paragraph long).  If I can manage to have 6 subclauses, preferably broken in two by a nest of parentheses–marked by dashes, commas and brackets–I will.  (Yes, I know what I did there.)

The other thing I do a lot is use a small collection of signposting words that get me started on the next sentence, particuarly ‘Moreover’ and ‘Furthermore’.

These are habitual sentence starters, they don’t necessarily work in the context, and it is certainly never necessary to include 5 ‘moreover’s in a single paragraph. But that doesn’t matter, it’s a useful habit. I don’t have to think about it. It gets me over the effort of starting a new sentence. I start typing, and by the end of ‘furthermore,’ I have some of what I want to say coalescing in my mind and able to be typed out into my document.

***

I just read a manuscript for a scholarly monograph, where I was driven utterly distracted by the repeated phrase, ‘Oliarius makes clear, “quote quote quote“.’

The first few times, I didn’t care. By the twentieth time, it drove me into a strange and yet all consuming rage. Each time I saw this phrase, I wanted to destroy it. My pen scored heavily across the offending words. I made comments of greater and greater vehemence, underlined and festooned with an accumulation of exclaimation marks.

***

This is the difference between the text as you write it, and the text as someone else reads it, between the 25% draft and the 75% draft.

Fortunately, search and replace makes it easy to find all your ‘moreover’ and ‘makes clear’, and either delete the phrase, or replace it with ‘therefore’, ‘additionally’, or ‘explains’, ‘claims’, when you get to that final polishing stage of writing.

Discover and embrace your generative writing tics, to help you to write. Then erase all evidence of it, before you pass your writing on to a final reader. 

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