There’s nothing quite like reading back over your work and finding little clues that remind you of writing it. A character ‘suddenly remembered’ something, not because it’s integral to the plot that they remember it at this exact moment, but because the writer had completely forgotten about it until then and, upon remembering, wants to redeem themselves and be a Good Writer and practice Continuity, and thus inserts this hasty, non-ironic lampshade to try and divest themselves of authorial guilt.
Grammatical tics are another fun find. I have two big ones. The first is the dash, which I have finally made myself admit has also slowly begun its infection of this blog – not that there’s anything wrong with dashes, because they’re part of grammar, they’re there to be used – and also it’s not like I’m overusing semicolons, I mean that would just be irredeemable – actually that used to be my big writing tic, until this year going back to university and being repeatedly and consistently critiqued for my run-on sentences made me take a good hard look at my use of that particular particle – funny story actually, I once found myself using semicolons as though they were – and the second one is, well, that. The, well, comma-into-well-into-comma combo. It’s particular to my blogging and blog-like rants that I keep to myself; I don’t know how it would turn up anywhere else you’d find my writing, considering that all of my other writing is either storytelling or academic, and I don’t know how or when I picked this habit up, but not only is it particular to my blogging, it’s particular to this blog. I really have no idea what the connection is but, well, apparently there is one. I digressed, didn’t I? How predictable.
Or those little turns of phrase that you recognise instantly because you know that you didn’t pick them up from other writers, little idiosyncrasies that mark out this work as yours because they are particular to your expression of self, and also feel awkward in the context of the rest of the fairly generic prose. My favourite ones in this revised manuscript are ‘impenetrably reticent’ and ‘proto-rain’. There to remind you, the writer, that yes indeed the person responsible for writing this is you and nobody else. It’s slightly embarrassing when it clashes, but even then (and of course when it works) they’re a little source of pride as well, a signature of sorts that marks out this work as particularly and irrefutably your own.
And then on the flipside there are the lines you write that feel like you didn’t write them, that feel like they were written by a real writer, that flow so professionally and officially and, yeah, generically – but in a good way – that you get a little thrill at how close you are to playing with the big kids and copying all of the things they can do, the things that make you think they’re cool enough to try and emulate to begin with. A sign that your dedication to copying things that you enjoy is paying off, making its way into your system and becoming part of who you are at a core level, no longer an imitation but an intimation of your genuine writer’s self.
But I think the ones that stick out to me the most are the bits that are specific to the story you’re writing. It might be something that the characters do, a moment they share or a revelation that they have or a plot-twist; it might be the opening or closing line of a chapter, where your events play out according to your plot in your words; it might be an aesthetic choice, like what colour you decided to describe the clouds in the evening as your protagonist reflects on how far they’ve come, how much they have learnt, how much more they still need to do and discover before they begin to feel some sense of resolution, or the sounds of your ocean and your wind in your world. The words you chose to express it, for the reasons you had for expressing them. Not quite idiosyncrasies, but more than just a regurgitation of the same old generic formulas: taking those formulas and turning them to your specific purpose. Originality, I guess. The only useful definition of originality there is when it comes to judging your or anybody else’s writing, and not a synonym for ‘novelty’.
It’s the originality that’s taking my mind places as I continue revision this evening, the missed opportunities and unexplored plot-points, relationship dynamics and events that almost went the other way; I want to know what the other way is. My own writing is interesting me like somebody else’s might, like any other story might, and I can’t help but think that this is a good omen, a sign of robustness and health in what I’ve managed to put together here. I want to know; I need to know, and so I’m beginning to speculate again.
And I mean it’s kind of necessary as well, because there’s a lot of loose ends fluttering around in this post-revision breeze, not even including the inevitable butchering of my continuity. Interesting loose ends that hint at unexplored territory and a rich swathe of adventure to go get entangled with. And clear. Clear directions that these protruding nodes, these snapped-off branches are pointing me in, telling me: ‘Hey, there’s meant to be more of this; go find out what it is and bring it back.’
And I am so happy, because it worked. I made a plan for writing this thing and hoped that it would work, when I was so afraid that it wouldn’t, but it did. I kept writing through the semester; I came back to revision without having lost my vision and my focus so much that I couldn’t write this story anymore; my enthusiasm came back and I discovered new things about this story, new directions I could go in, that the story wanted to be taken in. The gamble paid off, and I see now that it wasn’t actually a gamble. It was just a matter of following through, and once I did that it was guaranteed to work.
I spend a lot of time second-guessing myself, about everything, including things that I feel I should just ‘know’ intuitively, such as how committed I am to my work. And it turns out that I am very committed to this project – and that it wasn’t a question at all. Just a decision. I’ll remember that. It’ll be good continuity.
So trust yourself, dear readers. You are going to do it right.