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?

Responses to “Those Pesky Crutch Words …”

  1. Carla Cullen

    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!).

    • Michelle I. Mason

      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. Akoss

    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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