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.