(Don’t) Say that again – Dealing with overused words

I’m on the hunt.

My manuscript was overrun with the nasty little boogers and it’s taking precious writing time to stop and cull them from the herd. You know what I’m talking about, though they go by many different names: crutch words, filter words, overused words, tired words, lazy words, needless words, filler words, repetitive words – and don’t get me started on adverbs! I’m tempted to use a different term altogether, but it wouldn’t be acceptable in polite company.

I prefer the term “crutch words”, but what are they?

“They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become overused). These repeated words/phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage need to be reduced.” Sam Giacomo

I found at least three things worth mentioning in Sam’s simple definition.

Default setting – every writer tends to overuse certain words and phrases, but it’s part of your unique writing voice. They spring from your upbringing, education, region of the world, and personality. Relax. You come by it naturally, you can use them, and you’re in good company.

Not be obliterated – When I was first confronted with my own repeats, it surprised me! (Had, that, but, was, & would are some of my worst.) Removal of every single crutch word is neither required nor desired, but you will have to cull them. The effort is more than worthwhile, as it will improve sentence structure and the overall quality of your writing.

Reduced – Here’s the hard part, and none of my research revealed how many occurrences of a word or phrase is acceptable or excessive. Shouldn’t the magic formula look something like this? [20 uses of “X” per 1000 words = disaster] I wish it were that easy! I use MS Word for my writing, so I take advantage of the “Find” feature. If I see a whole bunch of repeats clustered together, I go hunting. If the overall number is large, I look at each one and winnow it down.

For example, while working on story number three of my current MS, I punched in the word “was”. Whoa! Two hundred forty four occurrences in a document of just under twenty thousand words. It took hours of eliminating, replacing, and re-writing to get the number down to one hundred three. The process is subjective, but once you know what your crutch words are it’s easier to find an acceptable balance.

Beware – the little stinkers are tricky! The list of offenders never goes away as old ones are replaced with new ones. Always ask your beta readers to watch for them, as they are more likely to catch them than you are.

Happy hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

Manuscript Editing for Self-published Authors

I am not the only self-published author who has to edit his own manuscripts, but it’s one of those absolutely necessary tasks if I want my work to be taken seriously. It’s time consuming (meaning less time to write) and almost as interesting as watching paint dry. With the correct mind-set, which I will mention later, the task becomes much less onerous

One of the blessings/curses of doing it myself is not incurring the expense of a professional editor. I addition, I never have to spend time explaining or justifying my word choices to a stranger. So, since the buck stops with me, I need to produce the cleanest manuscript possible. How do I do that?

I have learned some tricks in the last few months to make the task a bit easier and take less time:

  • I use MS Word, and turn on the spell check and grammar check. I make corrections as I go while the text is fresh in my mind. I may not agree with all the suggested changes, so I override the ones I wish to keep.
  • After finishing each chapter, I use the “search” function in Word to look for all my crutch words, and eliminate as many of them as possible. For me, this includes the blasted apostrophe – there are many mistakes caused by the misuse of the darn thing!
  • I  remind my beta readers to look for ANY flaws, no matter how minor.
  • When I have made all the beta reader corrections, I set the manuscript aside for a day or two.
  • The last step is a final read-through, from start to finish. It’s amazing how many more errors I find! Thankfully, I also discover better word choices and phrases which improve the readability of the book.

The hard truth is this – it is almost impossible to catch every single spelling or grammatical error. The goal is to release my book with as few as possible, and then continue making corrections as they are brought to my attention. (Yes, I read my reviews, and I recommend every self-published author do the same. They often contain valuable feedback I would not learn any other way.)

After the book is released, I purchase a copy and read the book again on my kindle. Inevitably, I find things which need to be changed. This is a good thing because it gives me the opportunity for continuous improvement (obviously, this works best for eBooks).

I had to learn that I am not simply selling a book, but I am promoting my brand – ME! It’s my job to make sure the product is polished and ready for the public to enjoy. This is where the mind-set I mentioned earlier comes in. I want my readers to have the best experience possible every time they read one of my books. Even if they don’t happen to like the story for some reason, I should never knowingly sell them an inferior product. Another term for this is CUSTOMER SERVICE.

Readers are generally not interested in how many hours of work are involved in producing a great book, but they certainly DO care if they pay for one riddled with errors. Bad reviews are difficult to overcome, so it’s better to prevent them in the first place.

I only have one chance to make a good impression (which of course includes the cover image and description), so I want to avoid disappointing my readers. I cannot force them to enjoy the story, but I can certainly package it correctly. After that, it’s up to the individual reader, and unless you have  working crystal ball, there’s no way to predict how people will respond. Maybe I will talk about that in a future post!