Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A quick tip to help self-editing

When I was in first year university I took a Kinesiology course and with professor who'd been nicknamed Basic Bob. Why you ask? Because basically Basic Bob could stick the basic word basic into a basic spot in any basic sentence that he basically wanted to. We would leave a lecture with pages of notes and every other word was basic. By the end of the term, the word had insidiously crept into my vocabulary. It took focused effort not to use it.

What is this leading to? I knew about verbal over-used words or go-to words, but I didn't make the jump to they could also be evident in my writing. I read a blog to help in self-editing. It suggested keeping an eye out for certain over-used words.

I decided to highlight them -"just" in yellow, "that" in green, "then" in blue and "was" in pink. I knew there'd be a couple. I wasn't worried. Can I just say – OMG! I was horrified when I scrolled through my chapter.

I'm a panster. When I write I go with it. Get the words on the page. If I stop to edit I feel like my train of thought will stop, so I type away. I know my go-to words are there, but I have developed a solution. When a chapter is done, I paste my edit list at the top and then highlight all the go-to words, passive verbs, conjunctions, ly adverbs and other things I've learned to look out for. My chapter tends to look like someone threw a couple of handfuls of ice cream sprinkles on it, but I can easily see what needs to be reworked and edited out. It's not a perfect system but it helps me.

I thought I might share part of my list:
Watch out for the over use of -
!!!!! (I love exclamations points)

Major look- out- fors - was, were - could indicate passive (especially was ____ing), had, have, could, would, should, just, then, that (if the sentence works without the "that" – remove it)

Initial conjunctions - (It isn't wrong to start with initial conjunctions - just don't overdo it.) MAIN ONES - as, if, until, how, when, after. There is a huge list – just google it.

Weak words – see, saw, feel, feeling, felt, smell, taste, knew, know

Passive verbs - is, are, was, was being, has been, had been, being, may be (not maybe), will be, must have been, might have been, is going to be, has to be, used to be, can be and by

Telling verbs - he watched, he saw, he felt, he thought

Put into contractions - not, is, are, am, had, have, will, would, should, could

Word list - seemed, start, very, once, again, began, beginning, noticed, after, always, already, even, fast, quick, quite (there are actually 67 words on this list – but these are the ones I find I use the most.)

Ly adverbs - (softly, quietly, slowly, quickly…)

I am not saying NEVER use these words, just be aware of how many times. 83 uses of the word that in one chapter might be a bit too many. Just saying.


  1. Great post. I use critique software to help me with a lot of these and more - cliches, overused terms - not just the no-no words, etc.

    Autcrit is a good one but it costs money. I found a free one but can't find the web address on my work PC.

    Thanks again for the great post.

  2. Thanks for posting. The people in my yahoo group tried and it wouldn't let them. I'm surprised you got in.

    ProEdit... or something like that is the program for free - I think.

  3. I use firefox - never have a problem :)

    PPL sometimes have problems on my blog if they are using IE.

    ProEdit isn't the one I use, but I can't remember the damn thing. If I remember when I get home I will post it. Almost exactly like Autocrit but free.

  4. Wonderful list! I have an edit list too, and you've given me several items to add to it. Thank you! (Ooops. Too many exclamation marks.)
    Thanks to those who commented on your post too. I'll be looking for those edit programs they mentioned.

    Sandy Nachlinger, Co-Author with Sandra Allen of I.O.U. SEX

  5. I have kudzu words that change for every book.

  6. Ella Quinn,

    So do I - first book was the word was just
    - next was headed
    - next was then

    the list keeps going!

  7. Great list of things to do a last check for before subbing. And great tip about the editing software!


  8. echoing is my no-no. And (lol) it changes as I work, so I may have a dirth of one word in a chapter and in the next it's something different. As for those lists........ :-)
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Isn't our writing process fascinating?!


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