Today, middle grade author Beth Pollock, whom you may remember from my interview with her, offers up a tip on overused words. I think it compliments my Tighter Writing series nicely. Enjoy!
One of my favorite ways to clean up my writing is to go through my list of overused words. Every author has a set of words that he or she relies on, and the more I write, the more I recognize my crutches. I now have a list of forty words that I check my documents for at every stage. It's a bit time-consuming, but it's amazing how a manuscript can be improved by eliminating those words. It also helps my early drafts -- I'm less likely to use them simply because I've had to edit them so many times!
Here's an example from my recent writing. 'Turn' is a word that I overuse, likely because it's useful in so many contexts. On checking my manuscript, I found my characters turning to talk to one another, turning up the heat, turning an activity into a game and turning their luck around. In some cases I found a synonym; in other cases I eliminated the phrase entirely. (In addition to the adverbs that Casey mentioned in a recent post, other culprits in my writing include 'could', 'know', and the ever-useful 'look'.)
A fun way to discover some of your own crutches is to enter a few pages on wordle.net. This website generates a picture of your story in words, and the ones you use most will appear in the largest font.
This is such a great tip, Beth. I keep an eye out for my crutches, but I haven't made an official list yet. I love the idea. Thank you!