What’s Your Rut?

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Zurakowski

Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.

I believe every author has a writing rut that he or she is inclined toward. Perhaps a certain topic close to the author’s heart leaks into every book, or maybe a word or a phrase the author says frequently in daily life becomes overused in his or her writing.

The author I wrote about yesterday–the one whose book was full of children–likely has a few young kids of her own. I bet her children frequently interrupt her while she’s writing with their silly, child-like antics that in turn infiltrate her books’ pages.

The other author–the one who always refers to young people as “youths”– likely calls young people “youths” in her real-life encounters with them so that seems normal to her while it’s strange to me.

Authors and editors often have to work hard to overcome these writing tendencies. The first step to stopping a “habit” that has become a writing rut is to acknowledge it. Go back to your project and read it to yourself. Reading large sections aloud can highlight your rut(s). Computer programs exist that will read your manuscript back to you as well. It’s amazing how ruts become obvious when you are listening to your manuscript rather than reading it.

You can also perform searches to see how often you use words and phrases. If you find that you do have a tendency toward overuse, you’ll be more aware the next time you start to fall into the habit.

What’s your writing rut? Do you lean toward a certain topic or phrase? Why do you think that’s your rut?

9 Responses

Leave a Reply

  1. i am very good at avoiding ruts, very rarely falling into their very constraining hold. i’m very surprised you would even ask. Very.

  2. Great post! My characters say “just” and shrug way too often. Perhaps I’m a shrugging justsayer in real life… 🙂

  3. Lucy says:

    Ok, Shawn, I’m way slow this morning. The sarcasm took me a minute. 🙂

    And I already ‘fessed up with the last post, so I’m reserving the rest of my sins.

  4. Lynn Dean says:

    My characters tend to wink when they’re joking with each other. I’m pretty sure I do that, too.

    When I started writing, I also realized for the first time how often Southerners use past progressive verb forms. “I was thinking about starting supper.” “I was fixing to go to the store.” They’re too easily confused with passive, and there’s almost always a more direct way to write it.

  5. Great reminder! I struggle with ruts, too. A critiquer pointed out that my character always gritted her teeth when she was under stress. My storyline was so stressful that she probably had no teeth by the end. I am so thankful that she pointed that out to me.

  6. Rachel Zurakowski says:

    Lol! You’re all so clever! Thank you for sharing.

    I know when I talk, I say “like” like all the time (typical “Cali-girl” problem). I don’t think it translates to my writing, but it might and I just don’t notice. 🙂

  7. Marti Pieper says:

    My name is Marti and I am a that-a-holic. Like all addictions, this one started small–one or two, then a few more.

    Before I knew it, “that” had overtaken my writing and (almost) my life. It inserted itself unnecessarily into all sorts of sentences. It wrote itself into places it didn’t belong. Its presence lent me a steady comfort, a calm security. And it took an editorial intervention to help me recognize my rut.

    Recovery’s a process, but I’ve reformed my “that” ways. The problem? My addictive personality means I’ll find another rut soon. I guess that I’ll have to try hard not to let that happen.

  8. Teri Dawn Smith says:

    When I first started writing, I used “just” about five times a page. Thankfully a critique partner wouldn’t let me get away with it, but after she pointed it out, I crowned myself “The Just Queen”. Which is, after all, better than an unjust Queen. : )

    My partner used being verbs too often so she crowned herself “The Queen Be”.

  9. Sarah Sundin says:

    Editing my current manuscript (coming to you soon, Rachel!), I noticed my characters kept “whipping” and “snapping” their gazes. I didn’t even realize it was happening. I wrote it once and it sounded great…so great that it kept popping in my head over and over. I’m on a search and destroy mission.