I have a twenty month old daughter. Among her favorite current activities: coloring, collecting acorns, and - for better and for worse - repeating everything I say. My husband and I have learned a lot about ourselves as she demonstrates new skills: while she pretends to talk into the remote control like a cell phone, she paces in tight ovals and throws her other hand in the air. That's when she's mimicking my husband. We know when she's mimicking me when she hastily concludes with: "kay, bye!" and tosses her makeshift phone on the closest available surface.
She's also shown me that I've been a little lazy in the word department. Several months ago, she started pointing at objects when she wanted them. And apparently, I responded by asking: this? this? So now, when she wants something, no matter how big or small, no matter how many knick-knacks and doodads surround the desired object, she points and cries: "this! this!" Her little cheeks flush and she makes fantastically pudgy fists as I helplessly touch one object after another. This? No. This?!
The problem is obvious: instead of using descriptive, decisive words early on, "this" became the assigned word for anything my daughter wants. Oiy. Then it dawned on me: "this" can also happen in my writing.
I catch myself doing "this" from time to time, vague sentences that limp the bridge from the sentence before it to the sentence after. Or, on a larger scale, vague and "this-y" transitions that adhere two scenes together with little more than bubblegum. Unfortunately, guilt by association can apply, and those "this" moments often weaken the writing that directly surround them.
If you have a "this" moment in your writing, I have a feeling you know exactly what I'm talking about, and exactly where it is. That page or chapter you've been avoiding. Don't let it psych you out! As my editor said about a stumbling "this" sentence, pick an action and own it. Believe that it's not just the best thing to do - it's the only thing to do.
I want to stand up and cry "objection!" against myself for just a moment, as I am now in day 17 of NaNo. First drafts can be chock full of "this." But the first draft is simply the map that shows your characters how to get from the first word to the last. Once they learn where they're going, they'll show you how they want to get there.