Habit words. That’s what I call them. Some editors lump them into the repetitive word category. Others include them in articles about adjectives and adverbs. I’ve dubbed them habit words because they flow into our writing in the same way they clutter up our speech. The little devils were probably hard-wired into our brains when we were born.
Knowing that, let’s accept the truth. Our early drafts will be littered with these throwaways. Our brains (and our keyboards) think the words belong. We might not see them, no matter how many times we go through our manuscripts. Knowing that, how do we identify them, and how do we eliminate them?
1. Enlist the help of your critique group members, your first reader, or, if necessary, an experienced editor or proofreader. Once you’ve identified your habit words, keep a running list. You might occasionally find you’ve adopted a new one.
2. After your big story revisions are complete, and you’re ready to fine-tune your manuscript, open your manuscript file(s). If you have Microsoft Word:
Click on "Edit"
Click on "Find"
In the "Find and Replace" box, type your habit word to the right of “Find what:”
Click on "Find Next"
Case by case, decide whether to leave the word in your manuscript or delete it.
Repeat the process for each word on your list.
3. Since many of us have the same habit words, here are those I find most often in my own work and in the manuscripts I critique:
just, really, pretty, some, actually, so, well, back, up, oh, off, somehow, like, very, many, that, finally, real, rather, anyway
All of these words are good words in the right places. When unconsciously sprinkled throughout our story, however, they might lead an agent or editor to think we didn’t do a good job of proofreading our manuscripts.
Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).