J is Just. Just Just.

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If you write anything, anything at all — fiction; non-fiction; blogs; tweets; grocery lists — you probably have some writing tics. Strike that. No probably about it, you have writing tics. Except maybe the grocery lists. In that case, you just need the same stuff repeatedly.

I have just one that I see time after time in my manuscripts. I’m currently less than a third into editing a first draft, and if I run a search, my tic is just everywhere. Just everywhere. 270 times, to be exact, keeping in mind just I’d smitten (smote? Smited? Clearly not smited) a bunch of them in the part I’d already reviewed.

If you haven’t noticed it yet, it’s OK, just don’t feel bad about it. What’s that, hypothetical reader? You’re onto me?

Just keep it to yourself.

Yes, my tic is “just,” used in a myriad of ways, but still used. And used. And used. Sometimes multiple times on a page. Occasionally I have to keep it, but edit after edit, I comb through, and there they cling, all the “justs,” until I pry them off with tweezers or burn them with fire.

Yes, hypothetical reader. It’s metaphor. Like a “tick” only a “tic.” Yeah yeah yeah, I’m sure everybody knows not to actually burn them off with fire, it just sounds dramatic.

And there I go again.

As with the other kind, most writing tics aren’t fatal. Though some of them can be pretty nasty, and there’s even one that can make you allergic to red meat, which is one of the strangest twists of nature–

Sorry, hypothetical reader? Right you are, wrong kind of tick tangent. Overuse of the same word is unlikely to give you allergies to anything, aside from your own work. But the fix is easy enough: run a search, find them, and drown those suckers in alcohol.

The type of alcohol is up to you.

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28 thoughts on “J is Just. Just Just.

  1. I’m sure a good proof reader will do your work justice. (Justice in literature means a light sentence, even if the paragraphs are hard labour).

    Just kidding.

  2. Mine are commas, parentheses, and hyphens. I have a terrible habit of using asides too often:

    ‘My favorite plant – that is, among plants that I can’t eat – are tulips.’

    How many of them survive the editing cycle depends on what I’m writing.

    • It’s an interesting balance, because it ties so closely into voice. The question becomes how much can stay without being distracting, and how much can go and still sound like you?

  3. One of the things I love about blogging is being able to start with an And or a But, or do short, incomplete sentences in quick succession:
    We hiked.
    And hiked.
    And hiked some more.
    …better visual impact, if you ask me.

      • I totally think you nail it on your blog, I find your posts warm and very accessible.

        I find the blogs where people keep everything formal have either a stilted feel or give you the sense that they’re trying to sell you something.

  4. I have a ton of tics! You see them on the blog, where I don’t care that they’re everywhere (some of my faves: “so” and “of course”.) The first step is recognizing I have a problem, right? Now where’s that alcohol…

    • I feel like blogging is a perfectly acceptable place to be as casual as you want. My favorite blogs are the ones where you feel like you are basically talking with a person, and personality comes through.

      In a book, 270 uses of “just” might just get…a tiiiinnnyyy bit annoying.

      The worst part of editing for tics is sometimes you don’t even see them…the search function comes in handy!

  5. A writing tic is a lovely way to put this. Not sure I would notice just. Well, perhaps after 270 times. An author I enjoy apparently recently learned the word nonplussed. At least one of her characters was nonplussed on every page, to the degree that I was pretty sure she did not know what it meant. THAT I noticed. I wonder what mine is. Hmmm.

    • Trust me, when you start reading back your work with an editing eye, words like that practically throttle you! I notice it now while I’m writing, too, but I tend to keep going and figure I’ll come back to it.

      Hmm, I’d be nonplussed reading that book! That’s the kind of word you use once in a novel. Twice, possibly, at two different ends. Besides, it’s a telling word rather than a showing one. If I find I’ve used something like that, on revision I break it down so that the reader can draw that conclusion.

      To find yours, I’d go back over longer pieces, if you have them, you’ll eventually see them. 🙂 And then you’ll wonder how you didn’t see them.

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