Tic, tic, tic, tic . . .

Today is the last day of my vacation before I’m back in the library trenches, digging out my desk and going through the hundred and sixty e-mails (at last count when I slipped in for a saved message from Jane’s teacher) waiting for me.

As I finished my laundry yesterday, I’m dedicating the time until the kids come home to doing some housework editing of my current WIPmaking sure characters’ names were spelled consistently, scene breaks were indicated appropriately, and that my personal writing tics were under control.

Stuff I should have done before I sent it to a few trusted betas to read over . . . Except I thought I had.  I’d taken out the justs, the verys, the -ly words and the maybes, curtailed the ups and kept the seems in check.

But that wasn’t everything.

I had no idea that I’d had three people baring their teeth in four consecutive paragraphs.  I felt like Jane Goodall.

That’s really the point and the blessing of beta readers—they find the stuff the writer can’t see any more.

What my betas have seen so far is somewhere between amazing and appalling.  Apparently, if you were to run my novel at high speed through a movie projector, my characters would all look like they had St. Vitus’ Dance.

They grin, they nod, they sigh, shake their heads, work their eyebrows as if they’d glued caterpillars on speed to their foreheads, offer smiles to anything that moves, and oh, dear Lord how they snort.

I’d be annoyed and embarrassed, but instead I’m just so very grateful they identified all these before I started querying.

Here are the numbers, after I ran the tics they mentioned, plus a few of my own, through the Find function:

snorted: 33

nod/nodded: 79

sighed: 73

grinned: 58

eyebrow/s: 60

shaking/shook (mostly heads, sometimes hands): 94

smiles/smiling: 91

baring/bared teeth: 7


I’m proud to say that I’ve pared things down to 5 well-spaced snorts, 11 total grins (and acts of grinning), two sets of bared teeth, and 23 eyebrow manipulations (I’m not quite done there).  It’s oddly satisfying to find ways around them, too—including outright deletion—now that I know what to fix.

Along the way, I’ve learned that I use a metric ton of action tags (He nodded.  “Of course you do.”), which would be overkill even if I stuck to the standard tags (“Of course it would,” he said.).

Good to know for future projects—I may not be able to stop myself from tic-ing while I’m in the zone, but at least I’ll know what to watch for in the next drafts.

So let’s hear it for beta readers and the glories of editing.  Not only are their sharp eyes helping me write a better book, they’re helping me be better writer.

I can’t thank you enough, guys!


11 thoughts on “Tic, tic, tic, tic . . .

  1. When I got to: “I’m proud to say that I’ve pared things down to 5 well-spaced snorts,” I’m afraid I snorted myself. So funny.

    My characters are always smiling, nodding, grinning. They’re so freaking agreeable. I think I’ll have someone bare his teeth, that’ll liven things up.

    • Something only a snort will do, Averil. And, one hopes, a tissue. 🙂

      My characters aren’t very nice, really—i have no idea why they smile so much.

  2. This was almost painful to read. 🙂 My own editing is too fresh in my mind. I was cleaning up books I had already published, so I was in a panic. Love how you pared down, but still kept enough important snorts. Eyebrow manipulations are fun. And thank you again, Sarah, for sharing so generously of your experience and panels at Bouchercon. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • If this was painful, just think about my poor betas, slogging through the snortful landscape of my WIP . . . 🙂

      I’m glad you liked the Bouchercon posts—have they convinced you to come to the next one?

      • It crossed my mind since it would be within driving distance. I shall see when the time comes. You are fortunate to have good beta readers. Mine are family who get too wrapped up in the story to be of much help.

  3. It’s so easy to see when you read it all at once, much harder when it’s yours. I’ve come upon the fact that my characters “smile small smiles”. What the heck is that?? Oh lordy…Control Find. I may need some wine.

    • I just got the eyebrows down from 60 to 17 . . . now I have to figure out what to do with 127 smile-derivatives, if anything . . .

    • You’re absolutely right—but I’m sweating the small stuff while I’m thinking about how to tackle certain parts of the story . . .

  4. Having helped a friend edit program notes for a symphony concert, I think it’s much easier to notice the tics another writer has than to notice your own. You are fortunate to have people who care help you through this part of the process.

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