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The Words I Can’t Stop Saying

Apparently, I have a problem. Actually, it’s really more of an addiction. A sickness, technically. So what’s a girl to do when she obviously needs an intervention? Clearly, it’s time to whip out her trusty friend “Find” and figure out how to replace those pesky crutch words.

Crutch words. 

We all have them.  (Or at least I certainly do.)  Those little add-ons that sneak into your writing and clutter up the prose without adding impact or purpose.  And as much as I love my “actuallys” (I say this so often that my nephew started mimicking me when he was two), there are times when we simply don’t need them.

Do you want your writing to be stronger?  Time to trim the fat.  And in this case, the fat is those filler words. 

I try to avoid thinking about editorial tweaking when I’m writing a first draft, but when edits roll around, it’s time to search and destroy.  As we’re rolling through the Ruby Writing Festival, I know there are a bunch of us who are working on editing, so take a moment and consider: How often do the following words appear in your WIP?  And how many times do you really need them?

That
So
Very
Truly
Definitely
Apparently
Really
Evidently
Clearly
Extremely
Honestly
Actually

Now, I’m not saying you should get rid of all of them.  Far from it!  (I love adverbs. Ardently.)  My writing is still littered with Actuallys and Evidentlys in the final draft, but they are intentional actuallys and evidentlys.  The goal is not to thoughtlessly eradicate all adverbs (though there are some who advocate that).  It’s to make the use of them conscious, thoughtful, and considered.  When do we need a “that” in the sentence to make it flow?  When do we really want to use that really?  When does an evidently enhance our voice, making it more conversational and natural?

I’m not a big fan of arbitrary writing rules, but I am a fan of thinking about our writing and what we can do to make it have more impact.  So considered your crutch words, nix the ones that are ineffective and embrace the ones that add to your voice.  At least that’s what I’m trying to do.

What are your crutch words?

21 responses to “The Words I Can’t Stop Saying”

  1. Addison Fox says:

    Vivi – I LOVE this post!!!

    Actually, I truly, deeply, heartily love it. 🙂

    Addison

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  2. jbrayweber says:

    As a freelance editor, I come across many crutch words. Some are not even adverbs. Excessive use of made or gave can give me eye twitches. 🙂

    Great post, Vivi, and an excellent reminder for writers of any level.

    Jenn!

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    • So true! Not to mention “was”es!

      Back in high school I had an English teacher who made us do an exercise where we removed all iterations of “to be” in order to make the writing more active. At the time I was horrified because I had intentionally used a lot of “was”es to create a certain storybook effect, but in retrospect it can be a useful exercise to experiment with. 🙂

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  3. Filler words such as “so” and “just” creep into my dialogue. They just sound so natural. 🙂 But in the editing stage, I get rid of most of them, making the dialogue tighter, crisper, and more powerful.

    Writers also need to look out for character-specific crutch words. In the first draft of one of my YA novels, one of my characters, a rebel teen, swore when she was angry. In edits, I took out more than fifty swear words and forced myself to find other ways to show her anger.

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    • Yes! Excellent points, Shelley. I also do a search and destroy for swearing (because if I don’t my mother will count the F words in my prose). Thank goodness for edits!

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    • Liz Talley says:

      This is me. I use JUST all the time. Another thing I’m super guilty about is attaching adjective clauses at the end of sentences. Oh, and feeling that I must embellish each dialogue tag.

      I have too many bad habits which is why a good editor is a must.

      Great post 🙂

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  4. Tracy Brody says:

    I get you! And I have to catch myself from having two (or 3) characters using same words. Like starting with “so,__”or “Yeah, __”
    Sometimes it’s an expression. Friend that leads my Bible study says “You know what I mean?” so repetitively that I kind of cringe every time she does now — so like >10 times per hour. Haven’t figured out a tactful way to make her aware and break that habit.

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    • Or when people say “like” every third word? I can’t stop myself from flinching. But those patterns can be useful in establishing character! It’s all about conscious use.

      You could always write a book with a character who says that phrase over and over and over again… 😉

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    • Liz Talley says:

      I also love to start sentences with “And” and “But”. I make that a REALLY bad habit.

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  5. Rita Henuber says:

    The HAD monster gets me. When I find a word I like by gosh I go all out and use it over and over again. LOL!

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  6. Beth Trissel says:

    Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

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  7. Thanks, Vivi! Love my adverbs. It was a sad day when my teacher told me to cut them out. They still fight to make their way in.

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  8. Tamara Hogan says:

    Oh dear, Vivi. I’ve lost track of how many occurrences of SO, JUST, and THAT I’ve recently excised from my WIP. 😉

    I write in very deep third person point of view, so when revising, I also search my manuscript for places where I’ve explicitly named a sense or an emotion, such as SAW, HEARD, WATCHED, TASTED, THOUGHT, SMELLED, HAPPY, SAD, SCARED, etc. I can almost always come up with a more visceral, more unique description. Naming a character’s emotion while in that character’s point of view feels a little lazy to me.

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  9. Elisa Beatty says:

    Love this post, Vivi!!

    For me, the constant creeper word is “quite” (seems to feel Regency to me, I guess.)

    Always have to search and destroy “that,” “very,” “seemed,” “rather,” and “just.”

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