Thursday, August 23, 2007

Minding our mannerisms

All writers have mannerisms; little verbal tricks and tics that may seem engaging when we first encounter them, but tend to grow wearisome with over-familiarity.

I'm no exception. One of mine is a tendency to over-use brackets (I swear I'm trying to cut down). Another is littering my writing with phrases like "as you've read", or "as we mentioned earlier".

I know it must be annoying. I'm aware, too, that the obvious response to "as we mentioned earlier", is "then why tell me again?". So it's definitely a bad habit, and I need to keep an eye on it. But, at the same time, I think there is a sense in which it's a "good bad habit" for a persuasive writer to have.

Let me explain. When I write - and in conversation too, actually - I have a dread of boring the other person. I hate the idea that I'm telling them something that they already know, or that has no interest or relevance for them. So when I write "as you know" or "as we mentioned earlier", I'm trying to pre-empt this terrible possibility - and, in doing so, I'm acknowledging the reader's presence and showing recognition of the fact that her agenda may not be the same as mine.

A really bad writer would never think to do this. He'd just drone on, ticking off the points he'd planned to make, without the slightest concern about how they might strike his reader, or whether he was repeating himself.

But OK, I admit, it's still a bad habit which I need to keep in check. (As I think I may have mentioned earlier.)


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