Every writer, new or experienced, probably does it. It feels as natural as breathing. So natural we often don’t see it in our own work.
What is it? It’s grabbing that set of comfortable crutches called ‘favorite words.’
I recently reviewed a manuscript submission that gave me pause. Since it wasn’t full of misspellings or bad grammar, it took me a bit longer to figure out what was off. Eventually I noticed one particular word cropping up over and over. It wasn’t something simple and necessary like a conjunction. It was a fairly unique and powerful word, one the average writer might use only a few times in a book.
Curious, I ran a word occurrence count. This specific, uncommon word popped up 306 times in the manuscript. I suspect this author is so numb to one of their favorite words that they no longer “see” it when they write or read their own work.
I think most writers have a handful of words that feel warm and snuggly to them, like fuzzy slippers. I know I do. The trouble creeps in when we no longer notice these pet words and they become the stars rather than supporting cast in our prose.
Favorite words can easily turn into divas, demanding the spotlight at the expense of your story. So how can you keep repetition in check? How do you even know which words you’re guilty of using too much?
Run a word frequency evaluation. It’s much easier than it sounds.
Unfortunately, one of the sadly lacking features of Microsoft Word is the ability to break down its basic word count into specific words/phrases and percentages. You can do it with a programming macro (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/240157), but that seems unnecessarily complex.
My Kindle can find word occurrences, too, but only one at a time and I have to already know the words I’m seeking.
There’s a nifty free program that can tell you the brutal truth quickly. It’s a text editor called “NoteTab Light.” It can’t open Word documents since it’s a plain text editor, but you workaround that by simply selecting all your text in Microsoft Word (Ctrl + A), copying it (Ctrl + C) and pasting it (Ctrl + V) into a new, blank NoteTabLight page. Then in NoteTabLight, choose “Tools,” “Text Statistics” and “Word Frequency.”
This graphic below shows the visual steps to get there. I ran a quick test on this draft before it was finished, and by far the most used words were…“word and “words.” I suppose there’s a karmic lesson in there somewhere!
Download the free NoteTabLight