Last week, I finished the second full revision of my manuscript. Last weekend, I started word searches for problem words and finished that search around 2:30 this fine Friday afternoon. My eyes are bleary from staring at words like know, hear and feel, pesky filters that slip into our work and dilute the action. Then there are the prepositions, so necessary to sentence construction but oh my how they do pile up on a page: as and when are two of my worst offenders.
As I scrolled through the work, I added pet words to my list, like stiff, step, focus and maybe. Reining in the word first, I discovered my character has many first times. Is it possible she's that naïve? Or am I a little too fond of that phrase? And her heart is cited so often, I worried about the health of that organ.
At some point I realized (also a filter), I was replacing troublesome words with other troublesome words, as with when, feel with seem . . . you get the picture. So I squared my shoulders, took aim at the culprits and hit the delete key, erasing whole sentences if I must to eradicate the problem. By the time I finished, over a thousand words had been erased. I sat back, shell-shocked from a week of word war.
I hope next week when I sit down in this chair to begin the third revision, I won't see a hole-riddled manuscript with passages that don't make sense. But seriously, I think this was a valuable exercise and worth every writer doing at least once. You'll come away knowing what words and phrases you overuse. It challenges you to not lean on familiar crutches, to find new ways of expressing the thoughts in your head.
The bolded words in this post are all on my list. What repetitive words are on yours?
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist, and I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti at Open Book Literary.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor