We all have them. Whether it's in our speech or our writing, all of us have words we use again and again without thinking like verbal ticks. For some it's "like." Others, it's "just" or "little" or "almost." It's one thing that makes us sound like us. However, it's also something that can lower the quality of your writing if you don't watch out for it.
Think about it. Have you ever been reading a book or article when a word or phrase starts jumping out at you, simply because it's repeated every few sentences? It kind of diminishes the enjoyment just a bit doesn't it?
So what is a writer to do?
First, keep a look out for excessive use of any particular word when you're editing. These "ticks" tend to be small, weak, descriptive or connecting words. They're wishy washy or just flat out unneeded. Common offenders are just, little, bit, almost, often, always, never, like, that, and very. Others may have more complicated or unusual words. Those can be easier to notice, and that makes them more likely to be caught in the beta phase.
Once you've discovered your writing ticks, you need to do something about it. Either you can go through your manuscript a line at a time and fix them as you go, or you can run finder to hunt them down faster. Either way, once you find them, you need to decide wether you want to keep them in that particular line or reword the sentence.
Personally, I take the line by line route. My starting step when editing is to run my work through the Hemingway App a section at a time. The app flags common issues such as passive language, unusual words, and wordy sentences. I have a bad habit of writing long, convoluted sentences, and the app flags the worst ones. While I'm going through and reworking these sections, my ticks jump out at me, and I deal with them while I'm already reworking those paragraphs.
If these ticks are such a bad thing, why wouldn't I replace them all?
There are no words that are useless or horrible in and of themselves. Every word out there has its use. Just because you might overuse one doesn't mean you need to eradicate it from your writing or speech. You just need to thin them out like a gardener spacing seedlings that have sprouted too close together.
So how do I decide which ones to keep?
Some will be easier to replace with stronger verbs or adjectives than others. Some, like that, can be erased out of most sentences with little to no impact whatsoever. Wherever you can strengthen your writing, do it.
One thing I did find helpful when editing Right of Succession was discovering I'd used certain words within a particular character's dialogue a lot. I left all the instances where it was that character saying the word in and replaced it or wrote it out some other way throughout the rest of the manuscript. It lent the character a more distinct voice than they would have had otherwise.
The key here is to discover your foibles and learn ways of dealing with them or even turning them to your advantage. Don't let the knowledge of writing "ticks" stop you from writing your rough draft or the rewrites. Don't let it slow you down. Save it for the editing phase. You're going to have to go through the manuscript line by line with a fine toothed comb anyway, and what use is it polishing something you're preparing to completely refinish in a few days anyway?
A. B. England is a small business owner, home-schooling mom, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves fantasy, mythology, and all flavors of science fiction.
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