Sunday, September 5, 2010


We all have our ticks. Some conscious, others not. Have you ever noticed upon re-reading your first drafts you tend to use (often overuse) certain words or phrases? I am especially prone to beginning sentences with “But.” Sometimes a well-placed “but” can work wonders, but more often than not it’s just filler. BUT I also overuse “just” to the point of it sounding JUST plain weird. These words are easy to cut: “I overuse “just” to the point of it sounding weird.” Once you become familiar with your particular word habit it becomes second nature to eliminate them in later drafts. (“also” is a word I get carried away with, as I notice in the sentence above.)

BUT, (would “however” work better as an opener here?) one of my all time favorites is the parenthetical aside. I am still trying to figure out if this is a nasty habit that ought to be sliced from every first draft, or is it actually one that marks my individual writing style? I used to think I had to get rid of them all, but now I am beginning to embrace my love of parentheses. I use them in lieu of the comma (comma overuse bugs me), but mostly I use them as a little whisper into the reader’s ear that may add another layer to the meaning of my line. (Or is it merely a layer of contradictory cockiness I am adding?) I am sure I use them incorrectly at times, (and annoyingly). Like “buts,” “justs,” and “alsos,” they could be eliminated, but for now I have decided to embrace my predilection for parentheses and leave them be.

If you’re concerned about the correct usage of parenthetical asides (obviously I am not) you can always go here…

Perhaps I ought to write a book using as many asides as possible—this sounds like a thrill to me, even though it may end up being completely annoying to the reader. (However I’ll continue to cut the other nasty habits). BUT it ALSO may JUST be the cure I need to get over my obsession (I mean: “it may be the cure…”). Or perhaps it is the only way to figure out how to use them wisely (after all a well-placed parenthetical aside can work wonders, too!) It's all style, no?

PS. I love the em dash (—) as well, but that’s another story.
(Oh, then there’s the ellipses…!)


  1. I'm MarshaQ and I'm an em-dash addict.

    Thank you for the (wonderfully entertaining) confession, Lisa. My own list is a similar one.

    And (always a good sentence starter) good luck with the new teaching gig!

  2. Good Lord. If there was a way to mainline em dashes and parentheses, my veins would have collapsed long ago. As it is, I just inflict them on my readers. Does that make me a dealer?

  3. I have all those, too, with an especially chronic-seeming weakness for (incorrect) hyphenates. We could start a support group. But I fear it would be like that scene in the movie "Blades of Glory" where the Will Ferrell character attends a sex addicts meeting and everyone ends up in the bushes together afterward.

  4. I know what you mean about those em dashes! I try to use a variation of all of them, dotted here and there.
    I once edited a manuscript by a woman who had used a minimum (I kid you not) of ten ellipses on every single page. It wasn't an issue to take them out, but it was an issue trying to persuade her that they needed to be deleted!
    (My personal thing is exclamation marks!)

  5. I'm an em-dasher, though I start rewriting when I see--too many--horizontal lines--on--the page.

    Lisa, I think the parenthetical aside can artfully demonstrate personality--the inner workings of an intelligent, analytical mind. So I like your idea of a character who overuses them. Run with it. (Or not.)

  6. I am SO likely to use SO, in so, so many ways that it's embarrassing. (This is beginning to sound like true confessions at a support group...and yes, the ellipsis is another of my tics.) I once gave a talk in a middle school classroom where they had set up a tombstone, at the front of the room, for the burial of tired or overused words. Good idea!

  7. > tombstone ... for the burial of tired or overused words

    This reminds me of one of my favorite Onion articles of all time: "Idiom Shortage Leaves Nation All Sewed Up In Horse Pies"

  8. Lisa
    I see no problems with anything that you've mentioned here -- (although I do not PERSONALLY have the same issues, I TOTALLY understand what you're getting at).
    Returns and
    White space ...
    Is that a problem?

  9. I personally believe that our collective addiction to em dashes, parentheses, etc. (and I say we because I love them too, SO much) is our way of reaching our young readers, but it could JUST be an example of one of the many ways in which Americans are collectively murdering the English language (see Twitter for more examples).

  10. I am so glad we are all in the same boat.