Five Weak Words That Suck the Life Out of My Writing

I am composing this post as I finish revisions of Buried Secrets, the sequel to The Cavanaugh House. During this process, I again realize the importance—no, the necessity—no, the obligation of authors to revise, revise, revise. I have spent the last week wordsmithing and tweaking my manuscript, creating a stronger, more interesting story. Here are some particularly pesky words for me:

Apparently “well” is my favorite word. As my friend and editor pointed out, I used it 122 times in a 263-page draft. That’s at least once every other page. “Well, well, well,” I said to myself, “I have to do something about this!” I eliminated or reworded almost all of them. Not all, since some were hyphenated terms such as “well-worn.” Well done! I thought to myself.

Pens

But, as I continue revising, I discover that “well” wasn’t my favorite word after all. In my continued search for excellence, I discovered 166 uses of the word “felt.” So obviously while I felt “well” was my favorite word, I now feel that “felt” won the day. This is one of the hardest fixes for me, because during drafting I often write sentences like “Panic seized her” using panic as the subject of the sentence. So in an attempt to maintain POV, my quick fix is, “She felt panic surge through her body.” Ugh. Why does it take me so long to get to “She panicked”? It felt so right when I first wrote it.

Felt

This just in—I’m very fond of “very,” too. I initially had 72 uses and whittled it down to 7. But sometimes, you just need a “very.” For example, when Gerald, the butler responds, “Very good, Miss Graham.” I mean, come on, it’s so butlery. (One “very” that I kept is right before a “well” that I kept.) While I was revising these, “very” became alien—I had looked at it and heard it in my mind so much, that it sounded odd, like it wasn’t a word at all. Have you ever repeated a word so many times that it became meaningless? Like pickle…pickle…pickle…Yeah, that happened. It was very weird.

DSC_0740I have cornered the market with the word “corners,” too. In my defense the book is set in Seneca Corners, so there’s that. Then there was the corner of a woven table runner, and oh!  the corners of mouths turning up that kept turning up. Each time I read “corners”, I was reminded of “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller…Anybody?” I kept hearing “corners” repeated in Ben Stein’s voice.

And what was going on with me? I used “going on” way too many times. Jesse wondered what was going on about every other page…well, maybe not that much. I realized I couldn’t go on that way. Since Buried Secrets is a mystery, the reader isn’t supposed to know what’s going on, but Jesse didn’t need to ask the question quite so (notice I didn’t use very here) often. It began occurring to me that there happened to be other options.

So, I felt it was my duty to offer some very sound advice that will make authors write well. Notice what’s going on with your writing, and cut every corner you can to make it better.

P.S. I have fixed all of these and more, so please consider giving Buried Secrets a try when it is published in August 2016. You’ll like it very well, once you figure out what’s going on.

What weak words do you struggle with when you write? What weak words drive you crazy when you read?

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

25 thoughts on “Five Weak Words That Suck the Life Out of My Writing

  1. What a lovely tongue-in-cheek piece, Elizabeth. There seem to be no weak words in this humorous post and I know all of us can sympathize with your theme. The trick is to bleep out those naughty nuisances BEFORE they gum up the final draft. The two I struggle with are “It was a …” and “There were…” and only used the second above to prove my point. Ha!
    Good Luck with your book this summer. My third, The Loyalist Legacy, will be out in November.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Thank you, Elaine! Today I will be checking for “There were” and “It was a…” LOL I hope you will be my guest on Meyette’s Musings when The Loyalist Legacy releases.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      As I said to Elaine Couglar, today I will be checking for “There was” “There were” and probably many more LOL. Thanks for you good wishes, Diane.

  2. I’m impressed, Betty, that you only have five words that drive you crazy. My list of no-no words goes on and on. And just when I think I’ve gotten so used to eliminating them from my vocabulary, they sneak in again.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Au contraire, Becky. These were the five I was working on while writing this post. I ran out of time and had to publish my blog post before I went on to other words that need to be plucked from the draft 🙂 As you say, they keep sneaking in. Of course, when I wordsmith each one, I have to search for the word I’ve substituted to make sure it’s not overused.I continue the valiant effort to make every word count!

  3. Great blog. In one of my manuscripts it was noted that everyone seemed to be leaning against a wall or a counter top. No one could stand on their own two feet during or just before dialogue. Or crying, I had one character who seemed to leak over just about anything and everything that happened to her. Editing is the dental work for a clean book.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      I love it, Kathleen – all those leaning people! I had too many tears in my draft. Oh, the drama! Of course, Buried Secrets is set in a girl’s academy with teenagers – I should have expected lots of tears and drama. But it was my protagonist, Jesse, who was crying all the time. That had to change – Jesse is a strong female protagonist!! Now she’s back on track.

  4. Love this post! I felt that you had to work very hard to write it – I didn’t have to sit in my corner to figure out what was going on. I struggle with “it won’t do”, “it seems” and “and then.”

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, Patty. Excellent response! I panicked a bit when I saw your “it seems”. Back to my draft to check for that one!

  5. I definitely like definitely. I, also, definitely like this blog. I am now going to make it a practice to see just how many times I repeat certain words. Great reminder.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      That is definitely a word I will search in my draft, Maris! Sometimes I am amazed at the number of times I use certain words.

  6. As a reader (not a writer) I sometimes want to cross off constantly repeated phrases and mail the manuscript back to the author so she can see that the story is just fine (if not better) without them. (Betty, I did not feel that way reading Cavanaugh House at all! It seemed super “clean.”)
    BUT, sometimes I love little oft-repeated idiosyncrasies, especially in dialogue, because that’s how many of us think and therefore speak. I think with parenthetical phrases popping into my head, and that’s how I talk, too. (I’ll interrupt myself like the rudest drunk at a party.)
    Just wanted to give you writers a little “grace” for your work!
    xo,
    amy

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Amy. You’ve encourage writers everywhere:-) I agree that certain words and phrases used by one character bear repeating and help to identify that character. Your insight as a narrator is so valuable to authors. Thanks for chiming in!

  7. I just can’t stay away from just. Everyone is getting there just in time. And when they get there, they touch. The characters just touch and touch and touch. Then again, it is a romance… And another one, pause. Like a video buffering my people are always pausing. Why? I created a check list of things to look for in my work and it just keeps growing and growing without pause. In fact, it will soon touch the ceiling.

    Enjoyed your post immensely! Great job!

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      You crack me up, MJ! Isn’t it amazing what words and phrases seem to stick with us? I also have characters walking over to things all the time. I think I’m supposed to write plays because I give so many stage directions. LOL

  8. Anne says:

    Great post, Betty! How true for all of us. I have a reference sheet from one of the many workshops (probably on editing) I’ve taken over the years. It lists the most overused words to watch for when you are editing. It comes in handy for me.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      That worksheet sounds like a handy reference during editing time, Anne! I’ve started my own, and I suspect I’ll be adding to it for many years!

  9. Anne says:

    Betty, what a great blog. Fun, but helpful, all at the same time. I have a reference sheet I use that I got from one of the many workshops on writing I have attended over the years. It was probably on editing. The handout lists a full page of the most overused words. I try to remember to use it. But, sometimes I get sidetracked. But is one of mine.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Ah…the buts. I agree. But, I still use them to start a sentence. But, I try not to. But, I do eliminate buts when I can. LOL

  10. I’m totally guilty of using the same words — for starters! Also, when trying to maintain one character’s pov, I end up using ‘seemed’ a lot so that I can illustrate the things that wouldn’t necessarily be seen by the other. “He seemed perplexed” or “He seemed to be analyzing her”. These are the times when I feel like my brain is just staring blankly going “Erm, whut r werds?” (Great post!!)

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      I had to do a search for “seemed” also, Samantha. You’re right – when trying to maintain POV, seemed seems to come in handy. I guess it’s that show vs. tell conundrum. Now, that’s a word I don’t have to worry about!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *