87 words to cut from your writing

For four of the past six weeks, I’ve been on writing retreat, first as an artist-in-residence at Bundanon in rural NSW, and then as a fellowship recipient at KSP Writers’ Centre in Perth, WA.

I love writing retreats because they allow me to focus on my current project to the exclusion of almost everything else, and it’s always a time of new insights and exciting progress. (Unless my CFS is flaring; then it’s just frustrating.)

I’ve been working on a major structural revision to my psychological thriller, and by the end of my two weeks at KSP, I’d made it through to the end of the draft. I still need to review the changes and do some more editing, but the hardest work is done, for the moment.

Now I’m at the point where I’m sharpening the scenes and the line-by-line writing. One of my favourite strategies is to use the find-all function in Word (shift + command + H on Mac) for certain words, and review each use of them one by one.

Instead of reading through the manuscript and getting caught up in the flow of the story, this strategy allows me to encounter sentences out of context. This helps me think about them differently. I ask myself a few questions about each sentence:

  • Does the sentence really need the filler word I searched? (Ex. Does that question need really?)
  • Could I rewrite the sentence to make it stronger, more interesting, with more specific imagery?
  • Do I need the sentence at all – maybe the paragraph/scene is stronger without it.

For example, this morning I searched the following words, and made these edits:

  • Reduced my use of almost from 31 to 11
  • Reduced all from 252 to 117 (very happy with this one)
  • Actually from 29 to 9
  • Absolutely from 5 to 1
  • A bit from 19 to 10
  • A little from 25 to 9
  • A single from 9 to 3
  • At least from 23 to 10
  • Always from 26 to 9
  • Back from 262 to 113 (very happy with this one too)
  • Obviously from 8 to 2
  • Very from 17 to 11

In some cases I simply removed these words, but often I reworked sentences to make them stronger. Where I’ve kept words like very and obviously is usually in dialogue.

I’ve created a list of words and phrases I search, and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be working through it while continuing with the revision. I’ve included it below in case you’d like to make use of it too.

87 words to cut from your manuscript – download this list as a PDF

a bit
a little
a single
at least
absolutely
actually
again
also
all
almost
although
always
another
any
as well
at the same time
back
basically
because
both
but
certainly
clearly
completely
decide
definitely
down
entire
especially  
even
everything
exactly
extremely
feel/feel like
first, second, third
generally
have/had a feeling
have/had no idea
hear
here
I think
in fact
just
know/knew/known
likewise
look/looked/looking
make/makes no sense
meanwhile
nearly
next
nevertheless
obviously
of course
off
otherwise
out
particularly
practically
pretty
probably
quite
realise
really
right
see/seeing/saw
seem
similarly
so
so much
some
somehow
something
sound
specifically
straight
suddenly
then
think/thinking/thought
there
too
totally
truly
up
very
watch
wonder
yet

Happy writing!
xo

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