Eliminate Overused Words

As I look forward to novelist Angela Hunt teaching at the 2014 Writing for the Soul conference, I remember an editing tip she gave at a past conference.

It’s classic advice. But her method for application makes it especially useful.

The Trouble with Was

All writers tend to overuse certain words and phrases. Good writers recognize their tendencies — and correct them.

Angela admits she’s a “Wasian.” When she examines a draft page, she finds she’s overused the word was: “The cat was on the table.” The verb indicates placement, but nothing else. To enliven her prose, she wants a more substantial verb: sat, lay, crouched — anything but was.

She discovers her wases using a simple “global change” command with her word processing software. To make the word stand out, she types in a command to automatically change each “ was ” to “ WAS ”. Appearing in all caps, the word can’t stay hidden.

(Notice she changes each instance of “space” + “was” + “space.” Otherwise she’d flag words such as WAShing.)

With that simple command, every use of was jumps out. She can easily scan the pages and decide which to change and which can remain.

What’s Your Tendency?

Perhaps you’re not a Wasian. Maybe you’re a Thatite. Or a Very-er. If you don’t know your tendencies, ask the people in your writers group.

Don’t try to catch these as you write. While you’ll capture a few of your pet words, you’ll mostly stifle your creativity and cripple your productivity.

Afterward, do a “save-as” of your draft, then key in your “find and replace” function (On my software, it’s Ctrl + F). Then brace yourself for how many times that term appears in ALL CAPS.

What’s your tendency? In my writing, I tend to use too many parentheses. I need to change ( to PAREN and start rooting them out.

Andy Scheer, editor-in-chief for the Christian Writers Guild, also serves as a freelance book editor and an agent with Hartline Literary.

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  1. says

    Great advice. I’ll have to see how to spot parens using my software.
    It’s especially nice to be given permission to use them during first drafts. I’d already realized this would work better because anything else clogging my brain gets in the way of my ideas and sentence structure!

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