Search and Destroy

I’ve been doing a lot of critiquing lately, of my work, my critique partner’s work, and for another writer I hope will become my second critique partner. Since I am in an editing frame of mind, I decided to discuss repetitive words. You know, the ones that sneak into your sentences without you even realizing they’re there.

Was.   That.  Seemed.   Felt.   Even.   Just.   And.   Then.   Ever.

My other problem words are there, their, and they’re. I know what they all mean and when to use them, yet I routinely find I’ve used the incorrect form.

When I perform an edit, the above words are at the top of my search and destroy list.

What words or phrases do you tend to repeat in your writing?

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  • Jen FitzGerald
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:49 PM | Permalink

    I'm sure I have one or two, although I can't think of them, but this issue is one I'm currently over-sensitive to, so I'm pretty diligent. But let's see…gazed and pressed (as in kisses)…

    Judi McCoy spoke at our RWA chapter meeting and mentioned that one word that is over used is 'looked.'

  • Wendy Marcus
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 1:05 PM | Permalink

    Gazed! One of my pet peeves. It's not on my personal search and destroy list because I rarely use it. I once read an editor's article where she said something to the effect that if she saw 'gazed' anywhere in the first chapter of a submission it was an automatic rejection. And 'look' isn't one I'd considered, but now that I think about it, I agree! Thanks for stopping by, Jen!

  • susanwilson44
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 5:00 PM | Permalink

    Definitely,, definitely "THAT" it haunts everything I write and even when I search and destroy, it always manages to have a few sneaky ones in there!

  • Wendy Marcus
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:26 PM | Permalink

    Hi Susan!
    'That' is one of my biggest repeat offenders!!! Congrats on getting your second round of revisions done so quickly! Fingers crossed for you!

  • Anonymous
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:05 PM | Permalink

    Just is my biggest one.

    and what do you use as a subsitute for gaze and look????


  • John Baron
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:58 PM | Permalink

    Okay — being a computer person, I naturally have a program I wrote to keep track of overused words. It tells me a bunch of other things about my text too, but the first thing I use it for is to look at what words are used the most (once you look past 'she/he', 'said', and a few others) so I can replace some of the offenders. I don't have to look only at the ones that bug me; I can see what's really out there. Coincidentally, I can use the list to ensure that I don't replace one overused word with another popular word, making the replacement become overused…. I've found this tool to be invaluable.

  • Wendy Marcus
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 1:01 AM | Permalink

    Hi Liz!
    Instead of gazed I use 'their eyes met or locked'.

    Hi John!
    Wow! Great program! I've heard of writng software programs that offer repetitive word/phrase detection, but you need to buy the entire package. Scrivner comes to mind. It'd be great to have a simple program that could scan a manuscript and identify the top five most commonly used words/phrases, maybe highlight them to make them easy to spot. There could be a market for that! Just a thought.

  • JL Walters
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 10:11 PM | Permalink

    Here's one that drives me crazy and I often find it in my own work It Was. In each of the books I write when I'm doing a rough draft I often repeat words. The beauty of revision is that you can get of things like the over use of stride, strode, moved. Words like that are easy to write down when one doesn't have to think. Once read a published book that on one page the writer had used beautiful 17 times.

  • Wendy Marcus
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:13 PM | Permalink

    Hi Janet!
    I can't believe 17 beautifuls escaped an editor's notice!!! Which is why we as writers need to be diligent in editing our work on our own, before we send it out.

  • Terri
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 11:59 AM | Permalink

    That's interesting about "gaze." I've always heard the opposite, and to beware of floating body parts, like rolling eyes and such. Gaze seems perfectly acceptable to be, so I'm not sure what the issue was there, unless it was that editor's particular taste or phobia or the word was overused. Any word can be overused, I suppose.

    The ones that get me are the action beats. He shrugged, she nodded, he snorted, she raised an eyebrow, that sort of thing. Always better ways to say those.

  • Wendy Marcus
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 9:41 PM | Permalink

    Hi Terri!
    I think all writers have some words/phrases they use more than others. That's why critique partners are great! Another set of eyes to pick up what you've missed!

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