No, I’m not referring to the NYT Best Seller list, or the Dean’s List, either. I’m referring to a very powerful tip that will help you to strengthen your writing, speed up your editing and lead you to write much cleaner first drafts, over time.
I’ve been involved in a document purge at my home and office. This was necessitated by my inability to fit one more client file in the file cabinet designated to hold such things. And, I couldn’t get the drawers open, without moving all of the banker boxes that were already full of the overflow.
Yes, I’ve been planning on doing it for a while, but another manuscript came in, or another conference was beckoning, or….
So, what better time than right now? I could think of a lot better times, all in the “later” realm, which is how my storage room got to look like this. I decided, now was the perfect time.
With the shredder freshly oiled and a supply of bags on hand, I hauled out the contents of both file cabinet drawers, and stacked the file storage boxes, into the middle of the office floor.
File by file, I decided if it could be shredded or recycled whole. And I uncovered what may be one of the most valuable gifts any writing coach ever gave me. My short list.
There, scrawled on the top of the first chapter page of a manuscript that I planned to submit to a contest, in 2003, a talented teacher by the name of Patricia Marinelli had written: Over used words–
Over, up, down, out, out of, look, looked, that, out of my head, out of my hands, pulled up, back, just, almost, very, really, turned.
I knew what to do with that list, because she’d taught us that in a workshop at some point. “Make a short list and post it by your computer so you learn to use these words sparingly.”
And I did. I put them on a Rolodex card and still have it there today, though some of the words of old have been replaced with new ones. (And yes, I still own a Rolodex, too.) Through practice, I learned to avoid those words, and to write sentences that were less passive, clearer, and more powerful for not using them. And, I apply this to my fiction and non-fiction work equally.
Before I send out my work for a look by my critique or proofing partners, I run a Search and Find on the piece and get my MS Word to look for those words, just to be sure I haven’t slipped into old habits. Almost every time, something will be highlighted and I’ll find that I can make that sentence better by reworking it.
I strongly recommend that you keep an eye out for your short list of over used words, write them down and become conscious of them. Be willing to add new things to the list as they appear.
This faded, hand-marked page is now headed for the shredder, having once again served me well. I’d forgotten what a great idea this is for writers–and hope you’ll find it serves you as well as it has me.
Keep reading and writing! Nancy Q.