Damn words

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  ~Mark Twain

I’ve made a conscious effort to curb my use of “very,” but in the 50,000-word manuscript I’m revising, there were still 45 of them. I did a little better on “really,” with only 31. An embarrassing 273 incidents of “that,” almost all of which are unnecessary.

Ninety-four “fish,” which probably isn’t enough for this book. And just a single occurrence each of  “zombie,” “zany,” and “zipper,” all of which could stand a more robust workout.

I always try to fill my books and the world with more love than hate, and in this case “love” won out by a score of 14 to 6.

A jaw-dropping 213 “like”s, which indicates I’ve never met a simile I didn’t like.

What are your crutch words, writers? Readers, are there words that make you wince when you see them repeated?


12 Responses to “Damn words”

  1. May 4, 2009 at 10:07 pm


    I did a wordle of my writing once and “However” dominated the picture. Since then, I’ve made it my life’s task to avoid using that word whenever possible. (No, I’m going to sidestep the obvious joke. See my feet blur across the floor? I’m sidestepping, I tell you…)

  2. May 4, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Just. Just, just, just, and then just.

  3. May 4, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    116 justs. Just one however.

  4. May 5, 2009 at 3:56 am

    Even, that, well, okay, but, although, if, when, usually, often, never, always, a lot, time, some, sometimes, every, any, and thing.

  5. May 5, 2009 at 3:56 am

    even, often paired with “not”
    22 in my last 14k story–EVEN with me consciously avoiding them.

  6. May 5, 2009 at 3:57 am

    … and then there’s the persistent recurrence of THE. Damn you, definite article! Damn you to hell!

  7. 7 rachelaaron
    May 5, 2009 at 1:00 pm


    On first serious revision, The Spirit Thief had the word “suddenly” in it 135 times. That’s nearly one every page! Also like, I use like, like, a lot.

    Is there any sort of word frequency counter program you can get to scan word documents? I’m sure there are other words I use all the time but never notice to count for.

    Also, when I really want to depress myself, I count the exclamation points. My! Characters! Can! Be! Very excited!!!1!!11

  8. 8 Lindsay
    May 5, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    I use “like” and “very” a lot, but they feel natural in the context of my writing, which (in this particular case) is in the first person, narrated by a seventeen-year-old. The two that I’d really consider crutches, though, are “sigh” and “realize.”

    I recently noticed a tendency to have characters sigh when they can’t think of what to say, when they’re frustrated, when they’re sleepy, when they’re calm, or when I can’t think of what else they should be doing. Luckily I recently caught that, and went through my ms and changed as many as I could. I have about five left, and I think that’s acceptable.

    “Realize” is a bit harder, because there aren’t many other words to describe the act of transitioning from a moment in which you don’t know something, to a moment in which you do.

  9. May 5, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Hm, let’s see. My characters sigh seven times, shrug five times, and nod thirteen times. Maybe I should devote one pages to nothing but sighing, shrugging, and nodding.

  10. 10 Matt
    May 5, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    If you want to get a really good word count, I’d recommend Notepad++ ( http://notepad-plus.sourceforge.net/uk/site.htm ). It lets you count every instance of a word, and it lets you find and replace all instances of a word as well. Changed a name? No problem! Find every instance of the word and replace it!

    It’s not as graceful as a word processor, but hey, it’s not bad for counting and replacing!

  11. May 5, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    “back” and “was” for me. 😦

  12. 12 rachelaaron
    May 6, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Cool, Matt, I’ll take a look at that. Also, Greg, saw your short story mention in the Tor newsletter today, very swank!

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