A tic is not a tick, not a tock. It is “a habitual, spasmodic muscle contraction, usually of the face or extremities.” However, in writing, a tic is an unconscious construction or usage that shows itself only to others, not the writer. Tics might include:
- habitual repetition of one word, (It happened to me with the word shimmer, of all things.)
- redundancy (saying the same thing twice or more in slightly different ways),
- clichés, common as dirt,
- anonymous or ambiguous pronouns (having no clear referent),
- overuse of prepositional phrases,
- monotonous sentence structure,
- unnecessary detail that has no purpose but to show off the writer’s erudition and/or vocabulary.
One of my tics is an overabundance of sentences beginning with conjunctions: But, And, So. Another is my frequent reliance on rhetorical questions as transitions: “So, what does this all mean?”
It means that we need editors and beta readers. Back when women wore slips, it helped if someone else said, “Your slip is showing.” When a writer’s slip is showing, she needs an honest reader to tell her so. Of course, I rarely wear skirts, so my slips don’t show. And if you believe that, well, as the cliché goes, I can get you a good deal on land in Florida.