Revising, Writing

Those Pesky Crutch Words …

I had this whole post written and WordPress deleted it–twice! Thank goodness I discovered you could retrieve a draft, although I’m still having to cut and paste it.

Anyway, there’s a lot of advice out there telling you to eliminate words like:

  • just
  • very
  • kind

This rule is so ingrained, I don’t have an issue with these particular words anymore. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own crutch words. The other day, I came across a post on the From the Mixed Up Files blog about some other overused words: eyes, head and smile. I’d already checked for those, too, but the post also reminded me about Wordle, a site that lets you paste in your text. It then creates a word cloud of the most common words, excluding words like the, and, it, etc.

What a great way to figure out which words you overuse. And I have to say, the words I discovered were my crutch words surprised me. I’m sharing them here in case they might be your go-to words, too.

Something. What a lovely word. It’s so … universal. It can mean anything, and that’s the problem: it’s vague. Culling out this word encouraged me to be more specific, and it strengthened a number of passages in my manuscript.

Back. It’s really handy that Scrivener highlights all instances of a word you search for–until you see it five times in one paragraph. How did I miss that? Well, it has to do with the fact that this word is so versatile. Someone stepping back, the body part, taking something back, and so on. I didn’t notice I was using the same word because it had different meanings. And the interesting thing was, often I could just delete it entirely.

Around. Another word that often was unnecessary or could be replaced with a stronger description.

Time. I never realized how many different ways you could use this word. At a time, in time, on time, the last time, at the same time … Often I had to leave it because I couldn’t come up with a synonym that wouldn’t sound pretentious or awkward.

One. The biggest culprit here was the phrase “no one,” but I also discovered a tendency to use this particular number if there were amounts involved. I’m not sure what that means.

Way. Another versatile word–the way someone does something, no way, on the way, a direction, by the way. I used all of them!

Know. When this word appeared, I expected it to be a lot of sentences starting with “I know I …” That wasn’t the case at all. It’s amazing how many things my characters don’t know, need to know, or want to know, and often there wasn’t a synonym that fit.

Through this exercise, I cut 1,000 words from my manuscript, and it’s better for it. Of course I didn’t eliminate these words entirely, but they’re much more sparse now. Here’s my final Wordle for THE DEXELON TWINCIDENT:

Dexelon Wordle

What are your crutch words? Do you rely on any of the same words I do?

7 thoughts on “Those Pesky Crutch Words …”

  1. Great post! I’m going to check for some of those words in manuscript, as well. And I love the idea of checking by doing a Wordle (interesting to me how Celeste was so much bigger than Harry in yours!).

    1. Well, it’s because Celeste’s sections are in third person, so her name is much more common in the manuscript. It does give a distorted view of her importance, though, doesn’t it?

  2. I’ve seen a lot of writers use this method. I think it’s fun but I have yet to try it myself.
    PS: I can’t believe I have a Celeste in my wip too, but she is a secondary character. 🙂

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