By David E. Sharp
Words make lousy crutches. Not only will they not keep you from hitting the floor if you're wobbly on your feet, they will also annoy your readers if you lean too heavily on them. In the editing process, crutch words are almost as invisible to writers as comma infractions, but they are vastly more irritating.
Even bestselling authors are not immune. I have only to find a new beta-reader if I want to hear, "Gosh, you're really fond of the word "dodecahedron," aren't you?" Who would have thought that three-dimensional geometric figures would come up so frequently in a dystopian cookbook?
How do we keep those crutch words from ruining our manuscripts?
Step 1: Admit You Have a Problem
You never see them till it's too late.
Unless you're a journalist or something. But you are figuratively burning bridges with your readership. And I can't sit here and watch you do this to yourself!
Great! Now that's out of the way, let's move on.
Step 2: Identify Your Crutch Words
Actually, this is the hard part. Crutch words wouldn't be crutch words if you actually knew what they were. Of course, you'd avoid them if you actually had any clue how to find them! And they're sneaky. They can take on different actual parts of speech. How do you figure out what your crutch words are? Actually?
No worries. There are ways to root out those irksome repetitions. For example:
|Behold the habitat of the deadly|
crutch word. See how it blends with
its surroundings waiting for the
opportune moment to strike!
Plus, once you annoy yourself with your own crutch words, you're that much less likely to be blind to them.
Beta Readers: Beta readers show up a lot on these kinds of lists. That's because they catch lots of mistakes. Including crutch words. Grow yourself a thick skin and put your manuscript out there. You'll be surprised what people find.
Technology: Get some algorithms on the task. There are several programs you can use to point out all your shortcomings as a writer. Isn't that great? Specialty word processors like scrivener can compile some word stats for you, but if you don't have one, you can use https://wordcounter.net/ It's nifty! In fact, it can tell you that a full 22 instances of the phrase, "crutch words" takes place in this article on crutch words. It can also tell you that I haven't said "dodecahedron" nearly enough.
Step 3: Destroy Your Crutch Words!
|Take that, crutch words!|
You're not gonna muck up my sentences!
Show no mercy. Especially if your crutch word is "mercy." Rip those crutch words out of your manuscript like they were crutch words in a manuscript. My next blog post will be on coming up with better comparisons. :/
Throw them down a food disposal and blot them out of your dictionary. Then make sure that whatever you replace them with doesn't become a new crutch word. Truly.
Step 3-Addendum: But Don't Go Nuts.
|I'm free! I'm free!|
I'm actually free
I'll never say...
I just said it, didn't I?
Don't send it out into the world limping.
For more on finding your crutch words, check out:
How Crutch Words Weaken Your Writing
297 Flabby Words and Phrases that Rob Your Writing of all its Power
-In case you want a heavy-duty list.
43 Words You Should Cut from Your Writing Immediately
-Or maybe you just want a list of the usual suspects.