I’d be the first to say I’m a naturally apologetic person. I tend to apologise that I’m so apologetic. I’m the person who apologises when someone steps on my foot on the tube. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ve come to realise that it’s killing my writing.
Everything I wrote sounded iffy like I was sorry for taking up so much of your time but if you’d like to read this, I’m sure you might find it interesting but if you don’t, that’s okay… I’m boring myself even.
I began to go back over my work removing what’s commonly known as ‘crutch’ words. You wouldn’t believe how much better everything started to read. Not to mention how it drastically reduced the bloated word count.
This doesn’t apply to all writing. The voices of your characters need these uncertainties of speech and verbal tics. This is more important for the third person narrative voice and blog writing. It even applies (and this is where I first noticed it myself) in your work emails.
See if you recognise any of these:
- ‘might’, ‘seems’, ‘perhaps’ – If you’re saying something, say it. Don’t qualify everything with uncertainty to soften the point.
- ‘in my opinion’ – at worst you sound haughty. At best, it’s redundant.
- ‘So’ – starting a paragraph with ‘so’ is considered a false start and one I can’t seem to shake! Even as I finished this post and proofread, I realised I’d done it again!
- ‘Actually’, ‘basically’, ‘obviously’ – we tend to overuse these words when we’re speaking and when writing, they become massively noticeable and cumbersome.
- ‘Literally’ – either it actually happened or you’re being figurative. Throwing in a ‘literally’ will not emphasise the point any further.
- ‘just’, ‘like’– you generally use these a lot in speech when you’re trying to get from one word to another. But on paper, they’re filler words and read badly. I know in my writing I overuse the word ‘just’ so it’s one I’m conscious of.
These aren’t the only crutch words and there’s a useful list here at Writers Helping Writers.
Don’t think you have to throw these all out of your lexicon! But you need to make sure you’re not relying on them. The Oxford English Dictionary contains around 171,476 currently used words. Surely we can branch out beyond basically, actually and obviously. Keep a running list of words you think you’re overusing and proofread your work with an eye to removing them. Ask yourself, ‘does this crutch word serve a purpose’ and if not, delete it!
What are your crutch words? What tips do you have to avoid them?