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Editing GeniusDecember 2, 2009

I had to share an idea that I've completely stolen from my friend Theresa Stevens, an editor at Red Sage and co-writer of one of my favorite writing blogs, Edittorrent.

It's one of those obvious, light bulb-over-the-head ideas, and every writer probably already does this, but I certainly don't, so if I can suggest it to just one other... Oh, I'll get to the point.

Everyone has words they overuse. My particular favorite is "just." I can use it four times in a paragraph and never notice. It's ugly. But when writing, I let myself write any old way and edit later. On final drafts, I have a long list of my overused words, and I go through entire manuscripts, using the Find function, searching out each usage and deciding whether or not it's necessary at that point (it usually isn't).

Theresa, in this post, talks about software that can help with this, and then, in that light bulb moment, points out that WE ALREADY OWN IT. In Word, use Find and Replace All to turn that danger-word a different, eye-catching color, so when you're reading along, there it is, waiting for you to notice, to make that decision. You can do that with the suffix -ly, if you're trying to snuff out adverbs. You can do it with "just" and "rather" and all the other energy-sucking words that plague you most as a writer. 

I love it. This is awesome. I can't wait to try it.

(But while we're thinking about this kind of thing, anyone have anything to say about Story Mill? I like how it flags your overused words FOR you, but I'm not sure about anything else. I'm a big Scrivener fan and use it for plotting, myself, although I compose in Word.)


Oh! Just is totally my word also. My favorite way of finding those over-used words is wordle.net. You copy and paste your text into the website (is pasted 70,000 words in, and am not sure if it has a limit) and the site gives you a word cloud of your text. The words that are used the most are biggest. I was pretty amazed when I pasted my manuscript in and the two biggest words were my character's name... and just. Did a find and replace after that. :)

One could write a Word macro that will color all your overused words with one command! LOL As one discovered more overused words, one would edit the macro and run it again.

Please give Digit a skritch for me; what's he up to lately? About 14 inches? LOL

Oh, and did you see the story about the sheep that went shopping?

I use find/replace/delete/reword for "just", "ly", "ness", "ingly" - it's like popping a pimple. Soooo therapeutic.

I frequently 'search' for words that I over-use.

Reading aloud helps, too, for spotting when things work and when they really don't.

I clicked in to tell my story, but Dana told it for me. Where she says "manuscript," insert "blog."

Humbling, really.

I use "so" far too much. Fortunately I never write anything over a page long so editing out my repetitions is pretty easy.

Glad you found that trick handy. :) Bet if you read enough red justs or purple verys, you'll start resisting the urge to write them. That's what happened with me, anyway.

I love find/replace. And I am a big fan of Theresa as well, we are in the same SNB

What a great tip. I love you writers.

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