Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Eliminate Overused Words by Andy Scheer
In case you couldn't attend this past weekend's Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference, here's an editing tip I picked up from keynoter Angela Hunt. It's a variation on advice I've seen for years. But the spin she puts on the technique gives it application across a broad spectrum of our writing tendencies.
All writers gravitate toward certain pet words and phrases. Really good writers recognize their tendencies—and do something about it in their process of revision.
In Angela's case, she knows that in her drafts she tends to be a “Wasian.” When she looks at a page of her prose, she finds that too often she uses the word “was.” Such as: “The cat was on the table.” The verb indicates placement, but nothing else. To enliven her prose, she wants a more substantial verb: “sat,” “lay”--almost anything but “was.”
The way Angela discovers her wases involves a simple global change command with her word processing software. To make the word stand out, she types in a command to automatically change each “ was ” to “ WAS. ” Appearing in all caps, the word can't stay hidden.
(Notice she changes each instance of “space” + “was” + “space.” Otherwise she'd flag innocuous words such as WAShing.)
With that simple command, every use of “was” jumps out. She can easily scan the page and identify which she should change and which can remain. (Despite her claims to be a staunch Anti-Wasian, I'm sure she leaves a few.)
You say you're not a Wasian—fine. Maybe you're a Thatite. Or the veins of your writing run thick with Very-cosities. If you don't know your tendencies, ask the people in your writers group. They know, even if they have been reluctant to tell you.
Don't try to catch these as you write. While you'll capture a few of your pet words, you'll primarily stifle your creativity and cripple your productivity. Afterward, just do a “save-as” of your draft, then key in your “find and replace” function (On my software, it's Ctrl + F). Then brace yourself for how many time that term appears in ALL CAPS.
What's your tendency? In my case, I need to change ( to PAREN.