Monday 21 November 2016

How to Eliminate Your Writer's Tics by Kathryn Evans

Kathryn Evans, tics? You betcha.

So...You have a writer's tic?
So...have I.

And they are HORRIBLY, HIDEOUSLY noticeable when I am editing...and editing...and editing.

Of course some tics are not tics, they are your writing style, or "voice" if you like. A "tic" becomes a "tic" when it happens waaaaaay too often - so much so that it looks like you are  having a laugh at your own expense.  I'm pretty sure you've spotted at least two of mine in this short introduction.

Starting sentences with So..And... But...
And these........
I also do love to use "-" instead of ",".

Why? No idea but having just finished my new book I had to go through and weed as many out as I could. I needed a wheelbarrow to dispose of them, there were so many. To cheer myself up, I asked some writer pals if they'd share their writing tics. Now I've finished laughing my head off, I'm going to share them with you!

First to the confessional,  author of Songs About A Girl, writer/musician Chris Russell
Chris Russell, Rock star and Novellist

So fess up, what are your writer tics?

My characters like to shrug and frown a lot. It’s as if they’re constantly confused but, you know, relatively non-committal about it.  They’re also very keen on playing with their hair, but as a notorious hair-fiddler, that’s entirely my fault. “‘Are you flirting with me?’, asked the gorgeous-haired heroine, flicking her hair. ‘Only if you’re flirting with me,’ mused the brooding popstar, running his hands through his devastatingly arousing hair, as she tucked her hair seductively behind her ear as if to say ‘my hair finds you attractive’” (etc). I mean, I paraphrase, but that’s the basic gist of it. 

How do you identify them and deal with them?

In the early stages, I deal with tics by just letting them go. Letting them do their thing. It’s the equivalent of watching a young child on a skateboard and accepting that, yes, they’re going to fall over at some point, but it’ll be a learning experience. You can spend your entire life obsessing over tics in a first draft, when the best approach is actually just to let them be, whilst you churn out the words - and then return to fix them afterwards. The “Find & Replace” function is a god-send in this respect, as it allows you to check how many times you’ve used your favourite words, phrases and actions, then work through them one at a time to even out the balance.

Oh laughing, laughing and now, over to Abie Longstaff:

What are your writer tics?

Abie Longstaff
When I write a first draft, my main goal isn’t to make everything perfect; it’s to get TO THE END.  I feel the need to see the shape of the book: the tension and slack, the weft and warp of each character thread. So I write frantically, sometimes leaving whole chunks out and putting [stuff happens] or [insert funny joke here] just to reach the end point.
 At this speed, my tics come out. All my characters seem to have stomach issues. Their tummies ‘clench’ ‘tighten’ ‘drop’ ‘churn’ ‘sink’. They ‘feel sick’. Their insides ‘turn to water’. I’ve obviously cruelly given each and every one of them IBS. 
How do you identify them and deal with them?

I don’t stress about the tics. It’s just a first draft – I can edit them out later. If I worried too much about them at that stage, it would interrupt the flow.At second draft stage  I use the find feature in Word, searching for any mention of ‘tummy’ ‘stomach’ ‘inside’ and then I limit myself to only a few mentions. My editors are brilliant too – they pull me up on overuse or cliché. 

And , of course, I wasn't letting our own Slushies off the hook.

Jo Wyton?

Oh my goodness. So many tics. I'm basically a tic novelist. My worst one is eyes - I'm all about the eyes in a first draft. Flicking them, to be precise, which isn't even a thing. 
I remember when I first had it pointed out to me, and I thought 'well, yeah, it's a bit of a weird thing to write but surely I can't have done it THAT many times?' So I counted. 94 times in one manuscript. I don't worry about it now - I tic away in the first draft and remove them later.

Surely Candy Gourlay, doesn't have tics?

 I have English as a Second Language issues ... I always have to review my prepositions -- I get of, at, in mixed up all the time.   
Oh I just realised this in my current wip. Characters not realising that they are the ones weeping, crying, shouting.  
Also, characters in close contact with other characters (hugs, clinches, struggles) and not knowing if the trembling, bleeding, heartbeat is his/hers or the other character's. 
 The other thing is BUT. This and this BUT then. Every other sentence has a but. On the one hand this is a good way of writing because the but is a sign that the story is twisting and turning. But I end up with too many buts. I have to revise them out of the manuscript and ration myself. 
I also tend to say "But no".  
Oooh I also say "Clearly"...

Okay, you can stop now Candy! 

Teri Terry - what about you?

People shrug, raise their eyebrows and jump! Sometimes they do all three, which is quite an art form. 
And I'm forever forgetting whether the thing you walk on by the side of the road is a footpath/sidewalk/pavement etc. 
And I have too much 'but' - sometimes I have 'but' twice in the same sentence!

Comforting isn't it? What about Nick Cross? Nick? Where are you??! Ah, Nick is busy doing his day job so, Addy Farmer? Addy? I don't know - where are your fellow slushies when you want to have a laugh at their expense? Paula Harrison? Surely you'll own up to a few tics? Fine!  Maureen Lynas, when you're not not keeping secrets, have you got any tics?

Lots of them. I think I have a list somewhere in a notebook from a Sara Grant course. I'll try to find it. I also start a lot of sentences with and or but. But I quite like doing that. And it suits the voice of the book. 

Which book is that Maureen? One you are not not keeping secrets about?


Oh, and there's another one of mine - made up sounding words. And starting sentences with "oh".

Oh well, like Chris and Abie both say, you just take them all out at the end.

  • When you spot a tic, use the search function in your software to identify ALL of them. Choose where they work best and weed out the rest. You don't need them. You don't.
  • If you can't spot them, get someone else to have a look for you - and if they aren't that noticeable, you don't have a problem.

 Kathryn Evans is the award winning author of More of MeA gripping thriller with a sinister sci-fi edge, exploring family, identity and sacrifice. She loves faffing about on social media: find her  on Facebook and Instagram @kathrynevansauthor and tweeting @mrsbung.  She also blogs on My Life Under Paper.


  1. Ha ha I enjoyed this so much because I recognised myself in just about ALL these tics. They are inevitable when you're getting the story down and the advice not to worry about them in the first draft is good. I blame the whole 'show not tell' ethos. We are constantly racking our brains for ways to show our characters are embarrassed, scared, angry, overjoyed, shy, awkward, whatever. Sometimes it would be so much easier just to SAY how they're feeling.

    1. I'd probably still squeeze a few tics into that!

  2. Oh yeah; I forgot that one. Oh Oh Oh!

  3. Man, oh man, you have cheered me up no end with this! I will now be hunting down all my writing tics in my second draft! Thanks!

    1. Hee hee I'm thinking that's a tic, my hee heeing...Uh oh!

  4. My characters often have cold fingers and shoes that click on the floor as they walk. I had to edit my shoe fetish out of about six places.

    1. Ah ha ha! That's so funny - am also panicking I have clicking shoes now...

  5. Me - I'm a master of repetition. In fact I could get a doctorate in it!

  6. I love this post! I enjoyed reading it and the comments too :)


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