Writing Tip #5: Trim the Fat

Well, it’s time to trim the manuscript. 

Ouch.

I’m so long-winded, it’s horrible. Every time I do another draft, my manuscript gains a few thousand words. Yikes!

But…some words are easy to cut. And painless. They’re the same words that bog down sentences and paragraphs. The best part is once they’re gone, I don’t miss them a bit. 

One of the last things I do with a manuscript is use the “Control F” function. Find and Replace, the writer’s best friend. Think of it like Search and DestroyOnce I feel my manuscript is “done”, I hunt for useless words that slipped in. Then I zap them and sit back, amazed at how quickly my word count drops. 

It’s awesome.

If you’ve been writing for awhile, you probably have your own list of excess words. I’ve gathered some over the years, but since I needed to go through this process this week, I put all my lists together in one place. I figured I’d post it here for you to peruse (and for me to use in future manuscripts).

Caution:

NOT ALL OF THE WORDS BELOW ARE ALWAYS USELESS!

  1. There are times when you need a “THAT” or a “JUST” to make a sentence work.
  2. Sometimes — and all you diehards don’t shoot me for saying this! — you need an adverb. Sorry, sorry, sorry! That’s just my opinion. Seriously, don’t shoot me. (See, I just used an adverb–and the word “JUST”. Ha!!!!)
  3. Depending on how your characters speak, you may need to leave some unnecessary words in to make the character sound authentic. Example: Teenagers throw tons of extra words into their speech (like, so, that). Same with southerners. Know your characters and be careful not to ruin their “Voice” when you strip your manuscript. In fact, if you cut those words from all places except where your character says them, it will strengthen their voice.

.

Because of those three reasons, I maybe cut half of the “useless” words, but it still adds up. THE POINT OF THE LIST BELOW IS TO GIVE YOU IDEAS OF WHERE YOU MIGHT  HAVE EXCESS. It’s tedious skimming your manuscript for every word, reading every sentence to see if the word is needed, but it’s worth the effort.  I just cut 2,500 words this week. 

Picture1

Okay. Ready?

Here’s my list:

  1. about   
  2. actually
  3. almost 
  4. although             
  5. appears               
  6. approximately  
  7. back      
  8. basically              
  9. close to               
  10. enough               
  11. even     
  12. eventually          
  13. exactly 
  14. feel, felt, feeling             
  15. finally   
  16. for a moment   
  17. get        
  18. go/going          
  19. had       
  20. hear/heard        
  21. in spite of           
  22. just       
  23. kind of 
  24. know    
  25. like        
  26. look/looked 
  27. nearly  
  28. notice  
  29. now      
  30. one       
  31. perhaps              
  32. practically           
  33. quite    
  34. rather  
  35. realize  
  36. really    
  37. saw, see, seen 
  38. seems/seemed  
  39. simply  
  40. smile/smiled
  41. so          
  42. some    
  43. somehow           
  44. somewhat         
  45. sort of  
  46. still        
  47. suddenly            
  48. then     
  49. thought               
  50. time      
  51. truly      
  52. try/tried to         
  53. turned 
  54. utterly 
  55. very      
  56. was/were          
  57. wonder               
  58. yet        
  59. (If you have words to add, comment below, and I’ll plug them in. )

ALSO…

There’s a great way to find your specific overused words. Paste your entire manuscript into Wordle.netI explain how this works in the post here.

After three days of this tedious SEARCH and DESTROY method, I cut 2,400 words from my manuscript. Now it feels tight and concise. It reads faster and stronger, too, so it’s worth it! 

Good luck with your manuscripts!

What words do you overuse? Any I forgot? Comment here.

Side note: Readers have no idea what authors go through for them. :)

58 Words to Trim

Other writing tips:

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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.

9 thoughts on “Writing Tip #5: Trim the Fat”

  1. Great list! I do love the search and destroy feature in Word. It’s a lifesaver/timesaver. I’m bookmarking this page to use in future. I tend to use the word ‘smile’ too much (I guess because I’m so happy when I’m writing…he hee; but it’s easy to cut out when I’m ready to edit, so I don’t worry about it until the end)

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    1. Thanks! I totally overuse SMILE. :) Maybe we’re just happy people with happy characters. Well, no. My characters aren’t happy all that much, but I still overuse it. I’m adding it to the list. Thanks for the input!

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  2. Wow, great job on the snipping! That’s a very useful list. I’ll bookmark this too. The one I seem to be stuck on at the moment is “seemed”. Everyone’s always “seeming to” do something. Why can’t they be more definitive!

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  3. I do this too but your list is longer than mine so I’ll have to check it against my manuscript – thank you! I love adverbs even though I do try not to use them. Then a beautifully written book like The Night Circus comes out and it’s loaded with adverbs! :)

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    1. That’s why when people say NO ADVERBS WHATSOEVER, I take it with a grain of salt. There are plenty of adverbs that beautifully add to a sentence. But I can see how they’re overused, even in my own writing. I suppose if you scale back most of them, the ones you leave will pop. :)

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