Monday, September 14, 2015

Just, like, that...or how many crutches do you use? by Cheryl Harper

I just finished working on a Christmas novella that was just over 19,000 words when I finished. How many of those words were "just"? The answer: 52. Not in the final, final, final draft, but at one point (quite near the finish line, too), I used the word "just" an embarrassing number of times. That wasn't even the worst offender. I have this handy worksheet named "Things to Fix Before Sending" that includes a list of all the words I get stuck on: just, probably, really, very, nod. There are so many and my list keeps growing.

With every new editor, I add something to the list.

I write like I talk...except I don't drawl away the G at the end of any -ing word when I'm writing. I cringe to think how many times I use the word "just" in a week. Or worse: LIKE. My favorite spoken crutch of all time is like, often in combination. "It's like..."

Argh. What's the old saying? Knowing is half the battle. At least I am sometimes aware when I hear myself hitting "like" too hard. What about you? If you're writing, what are some words you have to watch out for? Anything you know you say too often? Unfortunately, when I get a handle on one phrase or word, another pops up to take its place. For this novella, it was "crazy." That might have had something to do with my day/week/month at the time. Anybody have a great tip for eliminating these filler words?

My dog Jack has worn accessories other than his collar one day in his life. I snapped this picture on that day. He has a helpful message for me.

29 comments:

  1. Cheryl, I look forward to your posts because I know you'll manage to sneak in a cute picture of Jack. You didn't disappoint!

    Your post is very timely and relevant as I "just" e-mailed my AA file to Paula. There are two words the copy editor noted I overused in this MS that are new to my list: "important" and "things." Interestingly, these words have never been an issue before. Needless to say, the final MS now has only a few of these scattered throughout.

    Thanks to you and Jack for the smile!

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    1. You are very welcome! I'm so glad other writers have the same challenge.
      And I will vow to show off Jack at every chance.

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  2. Cheryl, I think we all have words that suddenly crop up--they must stick in our heads. I feel fortunate to have a critique group that underlines repetitive words. They really stick out if it happens to be an unusual word. Good thing we have astute editors and copy editors, too.

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    1. You are so right. Editors are the best.

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  3. Good morning, Cheryl! I love Jack. He looks as though he has all the answer, but just isn't ready to share. And he's prepared for breakfast. I use most of the same words repetitively that you do, but at my age, I have an added issue - I'll get a note that says, "This dates you, Muriel." or, In the AA's, I'll read discussions between various editors involved wondering where I came up with such a term - last one, one brother said to another after a philosophical rant, "Thank you, Grasshopper." One editor wanted to know if it was a children's book, and another said, "I think it's from an old 70s TV series. Best to update the reference, Muriel." My brain goes back too far. Doesn't work particularly well in this day, but remembers everything. You finished a mss, Cheryl! That's amazing, whatever little problems it had. Congratulations! Cheyenne would like to meet Jack.

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    1. Muriel, I understand completely! I was talking with Katherine at dinner while we were at RWA and mentioned my move to the country as a "total Green Acres episode." Then I had to ask if she knew what I meant. There are people in the world who've never watched Green Acres reruns...

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  4. I know where you’re coming from. Two of my crutches are your/you’re and its/it’s. I’m so careful when I use them, mentally separating you’re into you are and it’s into it is, and still when I reread my work I find those rotten little devils have snuck in a very inappropriate way. I also use just way too often, but sometimes just just seems appropriate.

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    1. Also - back ,over, return, up, down and look. I tend to repeat them over and over again in the same paragraph! (During the first draft.)

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    2. Oh, me, too. Two sentences and I've used the same word three different times.

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  5. I hear you, Cheryl! "Feel" is one of my top offenders as well as "look" yikes... One thing editors comment on is how YA I sound and ask for more "adult" wording - ouch- but I am a YA writer so I get where they're coming from. Of course my current WIP is loaded with inner city, behaviorally challenged teens on a wilderness intervention so I got to indulge myself and loved it!

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    1. I get the same comment from Dana now and then. I like to think that means I'm young at heart (aka, fooling myself).

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  6. I haven't been told YET which words I overuse, but I'm sure it a long list. Jack is adorable, Cheryl! I bet that nose is nice and wet. :)

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  7. Jack is adorable. I am waiting for my list of words but have recently been on a "had" deleting binge.

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    1. Yes. I thought I was so smart and deleted all the justs in one manuscript. Makes for some funny sentences now and then! Deleting is a constant battle. :)

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  8. I soooo want to, like, meet Jack! And you, too, of course, Cheryl! Love this post, because, well, it's soooo, like, on-target! LOL Have a beautiful week, m'dear!

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    1. Like, like, like...I could use it in every sentence!

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  9. Look at Jack!! ( :
    This is very interesting to me as a reader, and I have a question about a word that I almost never see written. I notice that writers often use the term "once more" instead of "again". Is there a reason for that? Sometimes I mentally insert the word "again' because I just ("just"...lol) think it sounds better or more natural. Is the word "again" forbidden in writing, and if so, why? Anyone?

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    1. Maybe because the author used the word 'again' within the last few pages in the book and wants to express the same meaning with a different sound. Editors are jangled when a word appears too many times too close together. Good to hear how things sound to you as a reader. You contribute a lot to this blog, Laurie.

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    2. Hi, Laurie! I don't think it's forbidden. Some writers' voices might work better with once more, but so many editors want to streamline sentences so again would be the better choice. This is really interesting, Laurie!

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    3. Thanks so much ladies. I hope it was okay to ask that question here. I was so curious about the word "again". Glad to know it's not forbidden to use it....no rules against using it.

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  10. I have issues with look and people nodding. Sometimes I think my characters' heads are going to break off from all the nodding they do! I've had to work hard to show what they're looking at rather than telling they looked. It's a constant battle. I feel you're pain :)

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    1. Oh, yes. Showing and telling. The old battle! "Look" is on my list and I hate to come to it because I know I'm going to be a while working and reworking.

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  11. So there with you! I remember saying that my 80K book became a novella after I took out the word "look." Nice to know I'm not the only one.

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  12. Yes, "look" is such a tempting word!

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  13. Look, glance, just, that...the list goes on. I created a Wordle once from a manuscript and JUST was in huge letters, and small letters, and in between letters. lol I also look for saw and heard. Just tell what they saw or heard, Patricia!

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