The first step to any recovery is admitting that I have a problem- no, I have an addiction “that” if left unchecked could kill any potential I have as an author. In the beginning I would use the word “that” sparingly. Its usage was deliberate and intentional. As time went on I found more uses for the word and before long I was using the word first thing in the morning and during my breaks at work. I would scribble it on my little note pad and type it without reckless abandon. It didn’t take long before the word “that” was slowly taking over my fictional worlds and robbing me of the opportunity to have a clean manuscript.
I remember the day well. I had recently completed a manuscript and I was full of excitement. Hours, days, weeks of my life had been poured onto the many pages. I took a deep breath, pressed save and then I eased myself into the editing process by running spell check. My irrational fear of spell check is the topic of another post… I had plenty of other errors but the one that kept coming up was the word “that”. Either grammar check hated me or I had a problem.
There was no doubt in my mind- I had a problem.
My friends, fellow authors, critics, and pre-readers had warned me “that” this day was coming. Patiently they corrected my mistakes in earlier drafts. There would always be little notes in the comments section trying to gently direct me from misusing the word “that”.
I needed to make amends for my bad habit addiction. I am not sure if what I did was genius or insanity but Microsoft Word has a replace option and I replaced every “that” with a space. I am going to tell you all the numbers so you will see just how bad my addiction I had gotten.
My first draft of The Last Siren started out at 72,000. I lost over 1200 words by just taking out the word “that”. One in every sixty words was a sign that I was addicted. At times there were as many as four “thats” in one sentence. It took me over six hours to repair the damage. My whole document had strange spacing where the word “that” once was. I was a grueling, arduous task. Like the words it, and, the, and but, “that” was a necessary word at times.
My recovery has been a process. I am all but terrified of using the word at all, but slowly I am using the word when it is necessary. My writing has improved dramatically. I have overcome my addiction but now there are other words for me to tackle- like the word “it”.
The last step of recovery is to share my experiences with others so they may learn to overcome similar addictions. You don’t have to suffer alone. There are thousands of others, like you, who struggle with over using a particular word. The first step to overcoming your addiction is acknowledging that you have a problem.