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.