Wednesday, July 13, 2016

32 Crutch Words to Slice and Dice from Your Writing

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I've done posts about crutch words before, but I thought it was high time I re-visited it. I didn't realize how many crutch words I had until the wonderful Wyatt Winnie (author in my weekly critique group) started calling me out on them. Thank goodness for honest critiquers. Really he only picked up 2 or 3 that I used a lot, but then I started examining my own writing and found a ton more.

So, what is a crutch word, you ask?

It's a word (phrases count too) that any given author uses a lot. Too much, really. We use them in everyday speech as well. Words like, "like," "to be honest," "actually," etc. They're words and phrases that are used so often as crutches or place holders, that they really don't mean anything at all anymore. 

And while they probably aren't AS meaningless in your writing as they are in our everyday speech, what it really comes down to is that they don't add anything in the sentence. And that's my rule of thumb while editing: if I can cut the word and the sentence still makes sense, then I do.

There are exceptions of course, especially with particular character dialogue. Maybe you want them to over-talk so sound less educated or as part of their character. Totally cool if you do. As always, cutting these words is the author's choice.

So I've made it a habit, now, when I'm editing a chapter, to edit for crutch words. The easiest way I've found is to use Word's "Find" function (or whatever program and search function you use) to find and change them on a case by case basis. 

Is it tedious? Yeah, definitely. But as with all things, it just takes practice. At first it will feel like the embodiment of why hell is full of unedited first drafts, but I've gotten to a point where I can do it quite cheerfully. 

And how do I pull that off? Because like all editing, it's a way to make my writing better, stronger, and more readable. And I enjoy that. Not only that, but you know the rule about writing a first draft and then tightening/cutting by 10%? Editing for crutch words will often do that for you automatically. I'll give examples below so you can see.

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One other note before I give you the list. There are a few words that I use A LOT. Words like "was," "but," and "that." With those ones I make it a rule to not use them for more than once in 100 words. So if I have a 1000-word document, I can't use "was" more than ten times. Other crutch words that are used less often like "suddenly," "very" and "Just" I try to use zero times. But every so often is okay.

All right. So here is my list of crutch words. Yes, I really do edit every chapter for every one of these. But I'm getting better at it. Once you start noticing and editing for them, you'll unconsciously use them less in your writing, which will make the editing easier anyway. Also, remember that while these will apply to MANY writers out there, each writer has their own unique crutch words as well. So maybe some of these don't apply to you. And probably you have a few that don't apply to me. Isn't variation wonderful!?! ;D

Crutch Words to Edit For:


Because they're used WAY too often and we need to find stronger ways to describe things. Also to stay away from passive voice (was walking, were talking, etc.):

  1. was             
  2. but              
  3. were           
  4. that             
  5. had 

Because 99%+ of the time, you can cut them and your writing will be stronger by leaps and bounds (these are the ones that usually mean absolutely nothing in the sentence):

  1. just
  2. really
  3. especially
  4. suddenly
  5. finally
  6. a bit
  7. for a moment
  8. very 
  9. even
  10. might 
  11. looked 
  12. almost
  13. probably

Because in writing, you either do something or you don't do it. Something is or it isn't. No half-measures:

  1. seemed
  2. began/started
  3. tried/managed

To avoid telling:

  1. looked
  2. realized
  3. knew
  4. saw
  5. heard
  6. smelled 
  7. tasted
  8. felt

Also look out for 

  1. reflexives: "my own," "himself," "herself," "itself,"etc.
  2. transitional overuses: "then," "and" or "but" at the beginning or in the middle of sentences, etc.  
  3. prepositional phrases, especially at the beginning of sentences; they tend to convey information you've already conveyed elsewhere: "before the concert..." "on the way to the market..." "while she brushed her teeth..."

I know this is a lot, but if you get in the habit of editing your crutch words, your writing will be MUCH stronger. It also gives you a great deal of self-awareness as a writer, which is empowering. And that can only be a good thing. ;D

What are YOUR crutch words?

2 comments :

  1. I use the find feature to flush out the crutch words. Felt is one of my biggest. That was a tough one, as with the telepathy and ability of my characters to touch each others' minds. there are only so many ways to describe the sensation of someone touching your mind.

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    1. Yeah that is tough when dealing with telepathy. Sometimes you simply have to overuse a word because there isn't another way to say it. I feel ya! ;D

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