Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Get the first draft written. Worry about the overused words later.

By R.J. Harlick

Do you ever find yourself over-using certain words in a first draft? What do you do to avoid or correct that?

Ah, those niggly little comfort words. You know those feel good words that just seem to slip in as you plunk away on your story. There I’ve already used a couple.  Can you identify them? I use them a lot. Whoops. Another one. So it’s usually about now that I tell myself, it’s no big deal. I’ll get rid of them all in the next round of revisions. I just need to get the first draft done before I start tinkering. And there goes some more. It’s too easy to slip them in. They serve almost no purpose. But when I’m writing them I think they do. It’s only when I start editing that I notice how useless they are.

I agree with Terry that many of them are hesitation words. I’m not always comfortable committing to a thought or an action, so I play it down by inserting ‘almost, about, just, a bit’, and so on. Like I said. They’re comfort words.  But when I finally remove them in subsequent revisions, the writing becomes so much stronger, which is what you want in a fast-paced murder mystery.

‘Something, sometimes, get, thing’ and other nonspecific words are lazy words.  It’s just so easy to use them. You don’t have to think very hard. Just stick them in, and I do, often. But again, knowing this, I strive to replace them with more precise words to clearly capture the particular action or thought, which results in a more dynamic story.

One piece of advice I will offer is to not worry about them during the unfolding of your first draft. Removing them could slow you down. The more important goal is to get the story written. Once you’ve taken it to the end you can begin removing all these niggly overused words. At this point in my writing venture, I know which ones they are. But when I started out, I found it useful to read the text out loud. They would quickly become very apparent.

I’d wanted to create a fancy word cloud of these words, but while I could create the cloud, I couldn’t get it to print or saved on my hard drive. You’ll just have to imagine it with JUST, ABOUT, SOMETHING, up front in red and orange and with ACTUALLY, ALMOST, SO, AS, SOMETIMES, GET and a host of others swirling around them in other colours.

In Canada, we had our big Canada Day celebration on Saturday. Now it is America’s turn.  Happy Fourth of July, everyone.


Paul D. Marks said...

Robin, I agree with you that we shouldn't worry about our "comfort" words in the first drafts. Just get down the basics on paper, so to speak. Then in later drafts we can fine tune and make everything tighter and read better.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well said, Robin. Just get it written, and then worry about overused words.

Unknown said...

Reading aloud is very (never use very in writing) helpful in getting rid of the useless words. I let my computer read aloud to me. It's much less tiring. Amazing how much you catch when you hear it spoken.

Susan C Shea said...

Oh, RM, I never thought of having the computer read the ms. I wonder if mine can do that? My voice box is easily strained and I can never read more than a few pages at a time. This would be great.Must investigate...