Writing Ticks: How to Kill a Great Story

by | February 11, 2014 | General | 12 comments

By Emilia Mancini (Guest Blogger)

As an editor, I should find that writing comes as easily and smoothly as breathing. However, I am one of those writers who has terrible personal ticks—bad habits that become a part of a writer’s style. For me, the ticks formed early in my writing career—long before becoming an editor and published author—and have stuck with me. I fully recognize that I have these issues, but as personal ticks tend to do, they have been nearly impossible to break.

One of the worst things I do is use the same words and phrases over and over. I latch onto a word and seem to find a way to work it into every paragraph. Several times. This is an incredibly annoying habit to me as an editor, but as a writer it’s one that I can’t stop doing. I now edit my work looking specifically for a word that that wriggles its way in far too often. In my last book that word was “slid.” He slid down her body. She slid his cock into her mouth. They slid onto the floor. I cut out so many instances of “slid,” I was nearly banging my head by the time I finished.

Another tick, one that I can’t seem to get away from, is “filtering”. Rather than just saying someone took a slow drink, I have a terrible habit of saying something like, “He watched her take a slow drink.”

If we are in his point of view, of course he watched her. If he wasn’t seeing her take a drink, we wouldn’t be seeing it either. There is no reason for the writer to constantly tell us he was watching or he looked or he felt. Tighten those sentences up, get rid of those filters, and get right to the point.

The last bad habit that I just recently realized I have, is using the word “again.” Okay, I already said that I fixate on words and over use them, but my abuse of “again” deserves its own tick. If you have this habit as well, stop. Stop now. “He kissed her again.” Or “She moaned his name again.”

Again is a lazy word. It’s basically saying, “I’m too tired or uncreative to find another way to say what is happening.” If you have to use “again,” constantly throughout a scene, take a step back and see what can be altered to shake up your word usage, because I promise you, something can be changed to expand on what you are trying to express.

There are so many ticks and we all have them, we all have things that define our way of writing that makes our editors cringe. The trick is to find those problems and correct them before they make it to the editor’s desk.

Some tips for editing:

1. Walk away and come back later. Reading and re-reading something you just wrote makes it nearly impossible to see your errors. Let it sit for a few hours, or days if you have the patience. When you come back, your brain will more easily see what is actually on the computer screen instead of what you intended to say.

2. No, it’s not easy, but try to read first for content. Fix plot holes and inconsistencies before getting hung up on technical issues. Pay attention to things like eye and hair color and the names of secondary characters. These are things that can easily be mixed up.

3. Read your manuscript again for grammar, those pesky writing ticks, and incorrect spellings that have slipped through your computer’s spell check program.

4. One last step, one that can make a huge difference in how you see your words, is to print the book on paper. If you have the patience, put it aside for a day or two. Then curl up and get to reading.

Though these steps are basic and suggested repeatedly, they are tried and true editing tips that can make the difference between a sloppy first draft and a solid submission that an editor, and hopefully a publisher, can really sink her teeth into. Utilizing all or just a few of these also can help you recognize and correct your own personal ticks—before your editor rips her hair out.


In her “real” life, Emilia Mancini is a Developmental Editor at Musa Publishing, a freelance journalist working for numerous magazines, and a freelance editor/publicist working with independent authors. She has a double BA in Journalism and Public Relations and will earn her MS in Publishing from University of Houston-Victoria in May 2014.

Emilia is published with Musa Publishing, Liquid Silver Books, and Sweet Cravings Publishing (as Marci Boudreaux). Her newest release, Seducing Kate, is now available from Musa Publishing.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. KJ Charles

    Oh, I feel your pain. I have appalling problems with unconscious repetition of pointless words. I took out 'little' through out my last MS and the word count dropped like a stone. And the filtering thing rings, or tolls, a bell too.

    (I'm also an editor who's become an author. I think it's possible you may actually be me.)

    • Emilia Mancini

      It is possible we are one in the same. I can't keep track of myself anymore, so I discount nothing.

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    Hello, Emilia! Thanks for guesting here at the blog.

    I'm another author who wears an editor's hat sometimes. I find that in some cases, that editor's awareness can be paralyzing for an author. I'm painfully aware of the flaws as I write. And I find myself scanning each paragraph, looking for those pesky repetitions – even though I always miss some.

    By the way, there's a neurological explanation for word reps. Once you've written the word once, that increases the "activation" surrounding that word, making it more likely to pop up again. I definitely have words that show up all the time, but I also find myself repeating unusual words several times in a single paragraph because of this potentiation effect.

  3. Emilia Mancini

    Thanks for having me, Lisabet. Good to know there is a logical explanation for at least one of my bad habits!

  4. Annie Anthony

    Great post–excellent insights. It's so so so much easier to edit (I say while wearing the editor cap.) Thanks for sharing!

    • Emilia Mancini

      Totally agree, Annie!

  5. Sloane Taylor

    Wonderful post, Emilia. I have almost won the filtering war. Now as to those others, OY! I have a list of things to check that I run through for each ms before by editor sees it. Yet the awesome and eagle-eyed Helen Hardt still finds things.:)

    • Emilia Mancini

      Just when I think I've got my filtering under control, it comes back an laughs in my face. Filtering is a jerk. LOL

  6. Sharon Ledwith

    Awesome editing tips, Emilia! I'm one of those who like to have hard copies to read. The more I write, the more I learn, especially from the wonder editors I'm assigned with on my books. Love how you have 'fav' words! Hey, we're all human. Cheers and best wishes for Bestsellers! Again!

    • Emilia Mancini

      Thank you, Sharon! I'd be lost without my editors. I just went through FLEs on my next release and shook my head at how many times "slid" and "again" still made it into my final edits. Argh!

  7. Sara Daniel

    The word slid gets me every time. At least, I'm in good company! 😉

    • Emilia Mancini

      Let's start a club, Sara! Even after acknowledging my weaknesses in this post, I keep doing these things. For shame! I need to wear a rubber band around my wrist to snap so I can break this habit!

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