I’m deep into editing my novel this month. Searching for the best words to create people and places readers will see and remember. Eliminating cliches. Working for copy that is fresh and tight. In the process, I discovered I have two crutch words – words I use without realizing it. Words I lean on, I fear, because they’re so easy.
Look at these sentences from my manuscript. Can you guess the words I mean?
- Sometimes Liddie just wanted to shout, “Get on with it!”
- She imagined that women who lived in cities did not spend their days hoeing weeds, gathering eggs or milking cows.
- I just know if I stay on the farm, Mama and Papa will insist I marry a farmer.
- Papa said that when Fred left like that, it just proved his point.
- I really thought after Illinois got the ball rolling with their vote last year that we’d see more progress in Iowa.
- Thank heaven and the suffrage movement for the fact that girls have choices these days.
- It was just the heat.
- Mrs. Carter hopes that Mr. Roosevelt’s enthusiasm will convince others.
- Neither reacted and she guessed that she was just over sensitive.
- She watched from just inside the doorway.
- Amelia’s voice sounded so oddly hopeful that Liddie looked up.
- I was just joshing. Can’t she take a joke?
- Kate’s gaze told Liddie just how naive her comment had been.
Readers at the workshop I attended last month pointed out the “that” problem. “That” is technically accurate as I’ve used it but it’s unnecessary. I began to look more closely for other such words. It turns out “Just” is a word I use so frequently in my own conversation
that I just don’t realize when it creeps into my writing.
In the 160 words above, there are 15 unnecessary uses of “Just” and “That.” Nearly 10% of the words. Eliminating all 15 results in copy that is crisper, more precise, and stronger.
Of course, there are legitimate uses of just and that, so it’s not as easy as
just eliminating them all. But yesterday, I cut nearly 100 words by searching out these two crutch words. My writing is stronger as a result.
The “Find” function in Word Edit is terrific for locating words I’m so used to
that I don’t even see them.
If your manuscript is light on words, these words could be useful padding. Having seen the impact of eliminating them from my own manuscript, however; I’d argue
that using them results in weaker copy. My challenge is quite the opposite. I’m looking for 16,000 words to cut.
Have you found crutch words in your writing? Would you care to share what they are? I still have 15,000 words to go.