I had drinks with a few friends last week. Several people at our table worked for the same news organization, and they brought up the fact that they are not allowed to use the word “but” in their writing. Or “although.” Or “however.” That’s because those words herald contradiction, which, they said, you don’t want in a news story. I suppose this makes sense, since as a news organization you’d want to provide the clearest information possible.
The idea of not using such words in my own writing — creative or otherwise — made me panicky. I am a conjunction addict!* “And”, “so”, “but”: These words are a habit of mine, one I often lean on to create a certain rhythm in my sentences.
But is this a mistake? The talk of not using words like “but” made me question my writing style. Am I being wishy-washy, unclear, ambiguous? So I opened the Word document that contains the first 40 pages of my book that I happen to be revising. There are 70 “buts” in the first 40 pages. Ten “ands” just on page one! Thirty-nine “sos”! Three “howevers.” And that’s just the first 40 pages. Wow. So this is what happens when I try to think about my writing on the sentence level. I learn about my bad habits. From now on I will definitely be more conscious of all of my “buts”, “ands”, “howevers”, “sos” and so on other such markers of ambiguity.
*”However” and “so” are actually adverbs in most usages.
Alas, I did not know that; I had to look it up. When I did, I learned that it’s considered poor writing to begin a sentence with “however,” which I also did not know, and is now another habit I must break.