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Grammar 101: Eliminating Crutch Words

Have you ever written something you thought was fantastic, but then reviewed it later and thought "Oh my god, how did I ever think this was good?". Perhaps you've received a manuscript back from your editor and noticed that a lot was removed. You may be doubting your abilities, or wondering how to make your writing stronger. Realistically, anything you write will always need a good polishing. Even the best writers aren't exempt. When we self-edit one of the things we should be actively seeking and eliminating are crutch words.

What are crutch words?

Crutch words are exactly what they sound like. They are the words that we tend to use to fill in the gaps of our prose. In speech they give us more time to collect our thoughts. In writing they are words we use for a specific reason but tend to overuse.

An example is the word "very". This is one of my personal crutch words. It sneaks into a single blog post probably about five times on average. My manuscript? Over a hundred. Since I know that this is my kryptonite, I make sure to comb through every piece of my writing and edit it out, unless it's absolutely necessary, of course.

Identifying your crutch

Now that you know what crutch words are, it's time to identify what your own are.

Gather a few of your recent and older works. Blog posts, short stories, manuscripts- it doesn't matter what type of writing it is, but having a few pieces is helpful. Go through and highlight any words or phrases that you see repeat more than twice within your work.

If you find the few that stand out in between your old work and your new, chances are that you've found your weakness.

Elimination Round

Crutch words plague every writer, myself included. Here is a list of common crutch words used by writers and bloggers alike:

Things to remember

Keep in mind that these words aren't bad. They aren't weak words, they serve a purpose in your work as surely as any other words. There is a time and place for each of them, so when you self-edit make sure to go back and determine whether or not they are being used correctly. An example would be using the word "feel" when characters are talking. Dialogue needs to flow naturally. Having your character say they "feel" like eating sushi or that they "feel" sad is perfectly fine. But using "feel" in the descriptive paragraphs, plus in the dialogue, plus as a descriptor of their thoughts is not effective nor warranted. If you keep a few in your manuscript, then that's perfectly okay. It's only the repetition of them that weakens your writing and makes your work fluffy.

Another thing to consider is how these words and phrases are being used. While repetition lessens the quality of your work, so does the context through which these crutch words are used. Depending on the meaning, these words influence the overall tone and style of your writing. They can also affect the pacing of the narrative itself, slowing it down when it needs to be fast, etc. Be intentional. When you analyze the crutch words you've highlighted, make sure whichever ones you're keeping make sense and benefit the scene overall.

Identifying your crutch words is like superman finding his kryptonite. Once you know where your weak point is, you can do things to strengthen your powers of writing and ensure that your prose is in tip-top shape.

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