Writing Tip Tuesday: How to spot your crutch words

(editing)



I have two writing projects I’m working on right now.
The first is a sequel to SADIE. Several people have asked if there will be one and my answer is, yes! Sometime, somewhere, some day. I have 180 pages written, but . . . right now I’m trying to finish up another project. This novel, a trilogy actually, is quite different from SADIE in that it’s not religious, it’s set in the near future, and the there’s no skiing involved. Hallelujah. :) I’ll be talking more about this soon, but for now I will simply say that I’m very, very, very excited about it. However, this first book is too long. As in 100 pages too long. Ugh.

In January I set on a mission to cut it down, editing and tweaking as I go. Since then, I’ve successfully added 1500 words. Yes. I’m fully and painfully aware that I’m going the wrong way. I’ve eluded myself into thinking it’s because I’ve improved the manuscript, added plot, fixed dialogue and all that jazz. While that might be true, it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s too long.

Yesterday, I played around with this incredibly fun little website called Wordle.net.
If you haven’t heard of it, it lets you submit large sections of words and then it spews out cute little pictures of your text, highlighting your most frequently used words.
Since I didn’t explain it very well and since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll show you a quick example.
This is a picture representation of the Declaration of Independence on Wordle.
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.
Cool, right?
It’s like a synopsis without sentences. The more frequent the word, the larger it appears, giving you a feel for what this document is all about: people, laws government, states. Cool. 

As I was playing around with this fun little website, I thought to myself, “I wonder what the word limit is.” First I tried a chapter of my manuscript and when it chugged that out easily, I decided to copy my entire manuscript, all 431 pages of it. Here’s what popped out:
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Ignore the names for a moment and notice that instead of cool words like ‘usurpations’ and ‘abolishing’ in big, bold letters, I have useless, space-wasting little words like ‘just’ ‘back’ and ‘get’.
Yeah.
No surprise that I can’t pen a document like the founding fathers, but I thought I had learned something in the past three years of writing. Apparently I still have a LONG way to go. (Btw, that little app proves yet again how amazing the Declaration of Independence is.) Thankfully writing is a process, and since this particular manuscript is still a draft (albeit the 15th one) I can do something about it. 

Note to any and all Microsoft programmers: Thank you for creating the Ctrl F function. ‘Find and Replace’ is awesome! 

Suddenly, this little entertaining application became a great writing tool. Once I started pin-pointing which words I’m addicted to, I knew what to look for as I went back through the manuscript. So far I’ve only gone through half and only with two words, but I’m happy to report that I’m down 250 words.
Crazy, right?
It’s a little time consuming because there are times when I actually need a ‘just’ or a ‘had’, but not nearly as much as I had just been using (yes, I did that on purpose). And the best part is I haven’t sacrificed a single bit of plot or dialogue. As a result, it’s tightening the manuscript like I had tried and failed to do before. 

Another quick note: Characters should have a voice, a distinct way of speaking. As part of this, I have a character who happens to use the word ‘just’ a lot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and I had to be careful not to kill his distinct voice when combing through my manuscript, so watch out for that. If anything, once you start cutting your crutch words from everywhere but that person’s dialogue, it will help strengthen their individuality.  

Well, I’m a happy lady today. And since this writing trick is not only easy but incredibly entertaining (at least for me), I thought I’d share it with all of you. Go find whatever manuscript, talk, or essay you have, and paste it into the link here. Once you have the word picture, you can hit the randomize button to see different versions of it. 
.
this post on wordle
Fun, fun, fun. 


Which words are you addicted to?  Did you know you were overusing them or were you surprised by what popped up?


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Author: Rebecca Belliston @rlbelliston

Hopeless romantic and author of CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, SADIE and AUGUSTINA. Music nerd and composer of RELIGIOUS and CLASSICAL-STYLE music. I live in Michigan with my husband and five kids.

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