Monday, January 15, 2018

Ax Those Crutch Words: BUT

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Good morning, lovely readers! Welcome to my series on crutch words and passive voice, as I know this is something we all struggle with.

If you've ever read your writing and thought it sounded sub-par or unprofessional, but just didn't know how to fix it, chances are you're leaning on crutch words or using passive voice. I'll show you how to fix that.

The truth is that writers don't have enough of a science behind fixing this sort of thing. Sure, most of the really great writers out there stay away from crutch words and passive voice, but most of that is instinctual for them, after a lot of hours of writing and learning and honing.

Even most other authors you'll find may be able to tell you that something is lacking in your writing, but even they may not know exactly what it is or how to fix it. Or even if they can pinpoint it, it's hard for them (for any of us) to give actual, definable steps toward fixing our weak writing.

Saying, "Do it better," really doesn't help much. Especially newbie writers who really want to write better, but simply don't know how.

Here's where I'll start giving tips to help you out with this. Because there are many MANY offenders when it comes to crutch words, and they nearly always lead to passive voice. So if you cut out your crutch words, 99% of the passive voice in your writing automatically goes away. Isn't that amazing? And you get the added benefit of tighter, more grounded writing. The kind readers love to read and publishers love to publish.

Today's offender: BUT

"She wanted to help, but didn't know how."

I use this format in my writing a lot. I compare two things and separate the clauses with the word "but." It's certainly not a bad thing. Especially if you don't do it and need a way to change up your sentence structure, try it. But (hehe) I do it too much. I also start too many sentences with the word "But."

So for this, I go through and read each "but." If I can separate the two clauses into two sentences without changing the meaning, I do. If the "but" must be there, and I can't find any other way to say what I want, then I leave it. Again, I find I can always get rid of most instances of this without changing the story at all. At least, I can easily get down to the 1% rule.

Example 1: It felt cowardly, but confronting him would have to wait.
The Fix: It felt cowardly. Yet confronting him would have to wait.

Example 2: He needed to get in line, but tied his shoe first.
The Fix: He needed to get in line. He tied his shoe first.

(Of course, you should change up your sentence structure here as well, so it doesn’t feel so repetitive. You get my drift, though.)

Last Resort Synonyms:
1. And - "But" should only be used if differentiating something. Showing how something is different than what you said in the first clause. Often it's interchangeable with "and."

Example 1: He went to the store but couldn't find what he needed.
The Fix: He went to the store and couldn't find what he needed.

2. Except - This works in a case where "but" is being used to show a remnant of something.

Example 2: He took all the cookies but one.
The Fix: He took all the cookies except one.

Again, these are "last resort" because you're substituting one filler word for another, even if the one you swap for isn't a crutch for you. Use with caution.

These examples tell you how to fix only this one crutch word. There are dozens more hiding in your writing and make it ooze with amateurishness and inexperience. Those words have to go if you want your writing to make it to the big leagues and brush shoulders with the heavy-hitters. 

Pick up my book, Editing for Crutch Words on Amazon for more tips and tricks to take your writing from okay to amazing! 

Check out Ax Those Crutch Words: Part 1: Was and Part 2: Had.

Also, check out my other books at:

How about you? Is HAD a culprit in your writing?


  1. Yet, though, although - substitute filler words - at least they add some variety. And I almost wrote the word but in that sentence! So easy to do.

  2. I use but all the time and I never thought it was s problem. Your examples show how much stronger the sentences are without it.

    1. I had the same experience, Maurice. Someone had to point it out to me, and then I realized I should be editing for that word. ;D