Editing and the overuse of words – make each word count

Edit Ruthlessly

I don’t know about you but I find book editing so much more difficult than the actual writing process. It feels as though you are dissecting the life out of your creativity and destroying your story. If you are a good writer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will also make a good editor, entrepreneur or (add any other hat).

If you self-publish then the amount of head-spinning changes that you will have to make throughout the writing, editing, publishing and marketing process are phenomenal and at each stage you are wearing a different hat. It is a cycle that many writers resist until they can get to the stage of writing again and beginning the next book.

At the editing stage there is one issue that has played on my mind recently, the overuse of words. After having put my book through beta readers, two professional edits and many, many of my own edits – I’ve lost count – there are still issues popping up, mainly the overuse of words. I obviously have a penchant for certain words, which I’ve used on multiple occasions, we all do. For example, I found ‘somehow’ more than ten times. What purpose does the word serve? Not much, exactly! So I either slashed or replaced it. You can use the ‘find’ function on word, as it speeds up the process, but don’t automatically replace one word with another. Think about the flow of the sentence, the context and the grammar.

Have a look at these words, all on the top of the lists of overused words:







What do they tell you? Not a lot. The point is that every word needs to drive the plot forward or give the reader a better understanding of a character, which in turn drives the plot forward. Many writers use ineffective words as padding and it derails the pace. If you want to keep the pace going you need to keep your writing tight.

If I wrote ‘The scene of the crime was literally a swarm of reporters, all really hoping for a snap’ would you keep reading? Would you still be awake?

How about ‘The body lay inside a ringed fence, flash-bulbs lit up the scene.’  Better? These are basic but give you the idea. I would also advise against using words like ‘little’. I found that I’d used the word ‘perched’ twice  for a character who would never ‘perch’. It’s not even an appealing word. What about ‘very’ and ‘get’? It’s easy for these words to go unnoticed but it is important to make each word count.

Which words do you use too frequently?


  1. Janet O'Kane says:

    Interesting post – the word I tend to over-use is ‘that’. I generate a word cloud of any piece of writing I want to check for repetitions: http://www.wordle.net/


    1. fcmalby says:

      Thanks, Janet. That’s a helpful tip….oh look, I’ve used ‘that’ word again.


  2. Well put. I call this process writing tight. Too many unnecessary words make the whole page too dense. Write tight. Use fewer words. Leave more white space for your readers to fill in.


    1. fcmalby says:

      Agree completely. Never underestimate the reader or overwrite. Thanks for the comment.


  3. Insight says:

    Hahahah! I’m being a part of a community where the *GRAMMATICAL ERRORS* usually aims at me. Hoping for a CHANGE from this particular group by at least in the near future. Thank you so much for this profound post, wise lady. Have a great time ahead. Cheers.\m/ 🙂



  4. Tom Gething says:

    In my experience, editing is the toughest part of the job–all those words that seem so dear! Thanks for reblogging my piece.


    1. fcmalby says:

      Pleasure! Absolutely, Tom. It’s grueling but each sentence reads better and what is dear to the author does not always resonate with the reader. I read some advice recently that you should go through and cut every other sentence, then read your work. It sounds drastic but shows you how much you can overwrite when you get carried away. Editing is brutal but much needed work.


  5. John says:

    Thought it only fair to return the compliment of making a comment…

    I think you’ll get a lot out of aiming to get a story on Paragraph Planet – it’s a great way to collect/generate story ideas if nothing else (while shoe-horning them into 75 words, makes you edit, edit, edit)


    1. fcmalby says:

      Thanks, John. I’ll give it a go. I’m actually just writing a 350 word flash fiction piece but 75? Cut, cut, cut…


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