There comes a point in your editing journey where it's finally time to cut out those nasty crutch words and phrases...
Now, what are crutch words? Well, they're the words we rely on that lack depth and meaning in our writing. Such as that, then, and just. Words that are sometimes necessary—but most of the time aren't.
A lot of the time, as I've noticed in my own writing, these are words used to push the story forward in a way that tells instead of shows the reader. It's an easy thing to do and when you're on a writing roll, which is why we have editing. Because the first draft is never going to be perfect.
Whether you're revising a novel manuscript, blog post, article, etc.—there are certain words to say goodbye to for the writing to be stronger. It'll help with the action, dialogue, and general flow of the piece, making it stand out as more polished and professional. For these exact reasons, I've already done this to my manuscript for when I query agents. It should be your goal to put your best foot forward, so here's my list of words to cut to help fellow writers!
WORDS TO CUT
Really, Very - With these two, most of the time they're useless modifiers and a more vibrant word can be used instead. Think really angry - livid, very tired - exhausted, really vibrant - vibrant. Or in a sentence; "It was a really long way down to the bottom." to "It was a long way down to the bottom." These are just examples so when you look through your writing, consider if 'really' or 'very' is necessary. And you may even be surprised by how many times you've written them without thinking... *cough* *cough* that would be me...
Totally, Finally, Literally, Definitely, Completely, Probably, Actually - Most words ending with -ly usually aren't adding any additional information to your piece. As an example, "I was completely full from lunch" is the same as "I was full from lunch." Again, read through with a careful eye to determine where you can cut them because I know with some of these it can also be a stylistic choice of writing.
Then - With then, you are explaining the next action instead of showing the reader what happens next. Finding other ways of explaining the next event without using 'then' will sound more professional and if we're speaking about a novel, it'll immerse the reader more into the story.
That - My best tip for this one is, if the sentence makes sense without that—cut it. And I'm sure you'll find it's used in places that don't need it. For example, "That was the most amazing lunch!" works, but with "This is the best lunch that I've ever had" you should cut that from the sentence.
Just, Slightly - I find a hard time cutting these because I like the way I imagine it in my mind, and sometimes just works well in dialogue. However, if you read through the sentences that contain either, a lot of time you'll find they're unnecessary and repetitive.
Start, Begin, Begun, Began - Following along with 'then', any variants of these words are explaining an action instead of showing the reader what's happening. So read through and decide for yourself what can and can't be cut, but most of the time it will sound better to write these sentences in another way that continues the action instead of interrupting it.
Rather, Quite, Somewhat, Somehow - This one is simple! If you write "I was somewhat tired" just let it be, "I was tired". There's no need for the extra word before!
Down, Up - Personally I use these two wayyy too much. When I was editing this was my true crutch word. But in sentences like "I rose up from the ground", it sounds better as "I rose from the ground" because we can already picture what's happening based on the other words in the sentence.
Wonder, Think, Thought, Feel, Felt, Realize - Again, this goes back to telling not showing the reader! I personally think it's okay to use them sometimes, but as a reader, I don't want to read how a character is thinking and feeling, I want to see it. Give me details of how the character is moving, what actions are associated with those thoughts and feelings? Or, let the narrator ask the question. For example, "I wondered if he was our true enemy" to "Is he our true enemy?"
A Bit, A Little - I was surprised in my own writing when there were more of these than I thought there would be. But when it comes to these two, why does it have to be a bit or a little? Can't it just be that thing as a whole? As an example, "I was a bit tired from the trip" to "I was tired from the trip". It's just one of those pesky words that creep into our writing that is unnecessary and sounds more complete without.
Seem to - While potentially this can work, we go back to telling not showing again. For example, "That seems to happen often" works just as well as "That happens often"
Dialogue Tags - With dialogue tags it'll take a more careful read-through to find the ones that are unnecessary, but when there are only two characters speaking, a lot of the time the; said, says, asks, etc are unnecessary and disrupt the flow of the story for the reader.
HOW TO CUT THESE WORDS
Going through a complete manuscript to cut these words can feel daunting... I know because I've already done it. But I do have a few simple tricks to help ease the process!
If you write and edit on Google Docs as I do, click, Command F, to search the document for each specific word. It'll show you the number it's repeated through the piece and allows you to scroll through to each word with ease. This is how I did it, which was time-consuming, but I find it easier to do it this way in case I miss anything and if I find any additional changes as I skim the document. This can also be done with Microsoft Word and the words all the words can be replaced, but depending on the length of your document I would still recommend reading through each spot with the word you're searching.
Download the Grammarly extension on Google Chrome. With the free version, it won't pick up on all the mistakes for words like "up" "down" and "definitely", it will offer to cut them. It will also help you catch any other grammar mistakes you may have missed. Personally, I do this step after searching my document to catch those final mistakes. But because my documents tend to be really long—the extension finicky with long word counts—I copy and paste chapter by chapter into another document to edit and then move it back to my document will my entire book.
XOXO Sade Louise