I have a tick in my writing that has followed me for years. Maybe writing about it will be like when people who fear snakes do that process where they slowly acclimatize themselves to snake nearness and, baring no tragedy, lose the fear.
When I write for my students, I hear murmurs. Someone will eventually out with it. You see, this tick that I have breaks a preference that has made itself into the “rule book” of formalized education and grammar aficionados. But the problem mostly is that it’s a tick, a mindless repetitive crutch. And here I just did it, at the denouement of this paragraph: starting sentences with “but.”
The word itself is a sort of period, an end stop with a counter punch. It’s an add-on that changes things. It’s not adding ketchup to fries; it’s adding Italian dressing. But in that same range, it’s showing deep thought. You’re parsing things with that conjunction.
Example: My dog is extremely cute. He is one of those dogs that you take to dog parks, and people exclaim, “What kind of dog is that!?” I say, “He is a German Shepherd and Australian Shepherd mix.” They scrutinize my dog and give their own interpretations. My dog loves this. He gets antsy. Opens his mouth, breathes, and gives them a smile. He even stamps his front feet in anticipation to be petted. But he is not a German Shepherd and Australian mix. He is a Great Pyrenees/Border Collie/Shar Pei/Labrador/Collie mix. I did a DNA test. This, thankfully, doesn’t change anything about him. But, another thing, he is not so widely liked in houses. He has furball-tumbleweed-creation syndrome. It’s the type that will destroy vacuum cleaners if not properly maintained.
I think the word “revelation” gets closer to the connotation I’m after. We are an information people. New information has strong rewards in the human psyche. We seek it out in many-tabbed forays on the web or purposely filter our logic for lowdown gossip. Getting it or giving it produces the same results. We want the awe affect, to disclose, divulge, soak up, revel in, let drop things: communications, feelings, opinions, etc.
Disagreement is also another reason for the tick. I annotate when I read, and if I disagree, I usually go with the tick. It’s a soft way to ask a question or point out a possible flaw. It’s a conversation continuer if you will. A real not-nice person won’t start with my tick word. And if they do, they put some sassy tone to it. Maybe I use the tick because I’m polite. I am. Sometimes too much: I have a “Sorry” tick in my speaking mode.)
Another reason is that I’m unsure of myself. I say things and then I modify them. You see, reader, I’m not sure about myself. I have opinions, but I must show you that I don’t think my opinions are without fault. Help me find fault. Acknowledge them and see if we can find something better. Or maybe it’s just a PR stunt. I have considered all the angles. See? Reader, you must believe me. I am a thinking person who does not shirk the other sides of the argument.
In its most basic form, it’s still just an overused word. Why do this so many times in one piece of writing? (Here, I almost started that sentence with “but, but since this essay is about it, I’m more cognizant of my writing tick than ever. The therapy is working, for now.) I’ve gone through paragraphs full of this sentence-starting tick. And the effort of trying to take the new revelation-oriented word out and realizing that these sentences are just fine as declarative sentences always deflates.
I have another tick that relates to the tick I’m writing about. I was just now searching for a way to begin a sentence, to talk about the weirdness of having such a tick. Then, I came up with the phrase (or went back to it), “It’s odd….” This is my other tick, and it’s related, I think. I’s another revelation tick. Both of them are my stand-ins for the prefixes of my sentences that I edit out later in my drafts. In this other one, I declare that something is not ordinary and then show my reader why that is so. I cannot just state it, I need to signal it. This is disconcerting. But writing can be fixed and mulled over. See what I did here?
I have hit on something here: I unconsciously feel the pressure in my mind to write something that truly points something out that someone else didn’t know before. I want my readers to know I’m doing the real thinking here. And in the age of blogging and terabytes of text out there just waiting in our pockets, it’s incumbent more than ever to be different, to show severe revelation to get noticed. And here is a fallacy that may be at the cause of it: Being a good writer is not synonymous with revealing new knowledge. A good writer could write wonderful things and then destroy them before an audience can digest the writing.
I am now juxtaposing this writing tick with wearing loud and genre-busting clothes in public or talking too much about an expensive vacation or social media-ing so much your thumbs begin to hate you.
This has been a good exercise.