Monday, April 27, 2009

You Have Got To Do This

We all know about the search function on Word (edit, find, write word in box, find next). If you don't - you really need to figure it out.
It is one of your best friends.
First, search for passive words like: had, were, was, that, when
Then figure out your own list of overused words. Everyone has them...yes, even you. You don't realize that you use them. You don't see them when you read your manuscript -- but they are there.

Case in point: one of my words is 'little'. I don't know why, but it is.

One friend who read my manuscript said "You sure like the word 'little'."

What? I never use that word. Well, I next to never use that word. Right?

So, I ran an edit - find - little - find next and guess what I found?

The word 'little' on every single page of my manuscript.

Every. Single. Page.

I had Little Ellen and the little kitten and the little black eyes of the frog.....

It doesn't take long for that to get annoying.

Some of my other overused words include: just, some, walking, turned, still, quiet, really and so

I run a search for those words after each revision. I ask myself: Is this word necessary? Can I make a better choice? Most of the time, I can.
Lastly, you need to run a search for adverbs. Now, let it be said that I am not of the mind that all adverbs are bad. In fact, well placed adverbs can add to the tone and voice of a piece.

For example, one line in my manuscript reads :

He was sorrowfully thin and looked like he hadn't seen a speck of soap in weeks.

Sorrowfully is an adverb, but I like it here. It adds to the voice.

Still, adverbs need to be looked at and individually addressed. But, again, that sneaky brain of yours will likely skim right past them.

So -- do your search. It would be impossible to think of every adverb and search for it...not to mention a waste of time.

That is why you should:

1. click edit (top of screen)

2. click find

3. put: ly(space)

4. click find next

It will take you to the adverbs that are within a sentence. Address each one. (I know not all -ly words are adverbs and not all adverbs end in -ly. It is still an effective way to search your manuscript).

THEN: do it again, only this time use ly(period) -- it looks like this: ly.

Click find next.

Now your computer will take you to the adverbs at the end of a sentence. These should almost always go.

Another example from my manuscript is when I did a ly. search after the first draft. I had written the line:

"Maybe," he said nervously.

Not great writing.

So, I changed it to :

The boy hesitated. "Maybe."

I think it's better. You may decide for yourself.


This will take some time, but it is worth doing. You may believe that you have been careful. You may tell yourself that you don't overuse words or use passive tense or that you carefully avoid schlucky adverbs.

I promise you will be surprised at what you find.

Questions for you: Are you already doing this? What are your overused words? I'd love to hear your thoughts....


lianabrooks said...


I usually go through this process toward the end of editing a draft, but I've only gone after passive words. I really need to start looking at what words I overuse.

Just guessing: look, move, walk or some variation thereof.

Cindy said...

Whoa, I thought I was a Word master, but I never knew about this. Oh, I am so going to do this, ugh...starting with the word "was". Thanks for the post, this is cool!

Lynnette Labelle said...

I love the word "just". Oh, and I'm working on my usage of "it" and "that". UGH! LOL

Lynnette Labelle

Janna Qualman said...

Yes! *wonders what her own overused words are*

I shall make specific notes to my betas, so they're on the look out.

And I absolutely agree with adverbs: Don't over use them (like in Twilight!) - but keep 'em if they really flow and add to the moment.

Jeannie Campbell said...

excellent post! i use that a lot. i guess because i type like i speak...and i say it a lot. but i'm totally going to find out a list of words i use a lot....great advice. :)

Davin Malasarn said...

This is indeed a useful tool. I tend to use words that tone down my own language like "almost" and "partially," so I'm careful with those. You can also use the closely related replace tool if you decide to change a character's name or something like that, which is GREAT!

Scott said...

I do a search for the word 'got'. I read an article by some agent (sorry, the name eludes me at the moment - need more coffee now!), and he (well, at least I think it was a he - still need more coffee now) he mentioned he always did a search for the word 'got' on any partials/fulls he requested. You'd be surprised how many times I've used that word in my writing. One word of caution: don't eliminate every instance of 'got', especially in dialouge, since it's perfectly naturally in dialouge.


Scott said...

Sorry for the double 'he'. Still need more coffee now. Heading to the kitchen. : )

Ann Victor said...

My word is "eyes" - sad eyes, happy eyes, drowning eyes, sparkling eyes, you name it, I've called it! So now I can't live without my word search function; I think combined with Wordle, I should be able to eliminate those pesky crutch words that creep in!!

Sharon aka Sapphire said...

Great post! I love the tip about looking for "ly" on your search. I had never thought of that. Thanks for the great tips.

Jill Kemerer said...

Oh, yes, Tess, I do this. And let me tell you, I've got some doozies in my books. I also find that each book features a new pet phrase! Last book it was "...perked up". We'll see what the latest manuscript reveals!

Joyce Wolfley said...

I've done some searches but never with "ly" and "ly.". I'm going to do it right now.

I have done searches with those vague, passive words like "somehow", "almost", and "perhaps" after a post on I was shocked to see what I'd written.

Lady Glamis said...

Yes, I already do this, and most of my problem words are adverbs - and other such embarrassing items. This is one of the "layers" that I do in my writing. The search is fantastic. Thanks for a great post!

Jody Hedlund said...

Thank you for the great tips! I definitely over use certain words, but hadn't thought to do a search for them like that! And to search out the passive verbs too! Excellent advice!

Tess said...

Oh, I'll have to add 'got' and 'perhaps' to my list, thanks Scott and Joyce!

And, Jill - I agree, this ms seems to lend itself to different pet phrases. Interesting.

I'm glad this is of help to some...I certainly wish I had known it years ago.

Anna Claire said...

Such a good idea! I'm definitely going to do this. I think one of mine is "glance." Everyone in my stories is always glancing. They glance away, glance up, shoot a quick glance, etc etc etc.

PS Word verif is "averb". No kidding.

lotusgirl said...

Yeah, this search is great. I tend to use words like "just" and "almost" and "though" a lot. I'm getting better about leaving them out in the first place now. Hurray!

Jenn Johansson said...

Awesome tips! Very cool! :D Thanks for sharing!

Windsong said...

*hugs Scrivener*

My writing program will automatically keep track of every word I use. Then it shows me how often I use it. It's been a real eye opening experience, let me tell you. :D

Crystal said...

Hi Tess!

Thanks for these tips! I'm going to start doing this TODAY. I think my overused word is "had" along with some -ly words. This is a great way to weed them out!

Also, thanks for dropping by and reading the little excerpt from my wip. I really appreciate it!

Sarah Jensen said...

SO. I use it a lot. had it over 800 times in my ms. So. What a simple little word. Heehee.

I do this. And it helps a lot. When I did the ly search, it shocked me. I have learned to not use so many adverbs.

Christy Raedeke said...

Wow. Brilliant idea. Seems I have a thing for the words little and freaky. It's so weird how you never notice that yourself! Great idea.

B.J. Anderson said...

OooOOOoo. Thanks for the tip!!