Writing Woes: Revision and Overused Words

Have you ever looked back over your “great” manuscript and wanted to cry? I have. I’ve also laughed when I looked at something I thought was great when a wrote it a few years ago. How could I ever think something that poorly written was great?

Because I was a beginner and didn’t know much about writing. I revised my little heart out on those early works, making them perfect to my poor inexperienced mind. No wonder everything I submitted was rejected. Now that I’ve learned a ton more about writing, I’m shocked I ever let those manuscripts out the door.

But I did get over my fear of submitting and getting rejected thanks to those early manuscripts. I know that when I submit something again, it’ll actually be in good shape because I now know how to really revise and what makes good writing.

This doesn’t mean revisions are any easier. It just means the end result is at least close to publishable. If I could find the right person for the manuscript.

Now, to give you a laugh and a glimpse into what I deal with as I revise an older manuscript (yes, I’m in the middle of doing that now), here’s one problem I constantly come across in my writing. Repetitive word usage. All writers do it at least occasionally, but I seem to do it often. Want to know the most overused word in stuff I wrote two or more years ago? Smile. That’s write, my characters smile A LOT. So, thanks to my apparent addiction to the word “smile,” I have to go back and get rid of as many occurrences of it as possible or have people think my characters are grinning lunatics.

Another word that gets deleted quite a bit during revisions is “that.” You’d be amazed at how many times “that” appears in a manuscript and it isn’t even necessary most of the time. And I’m not just talking about my own manuscripts, either. Nearly every writer I’ve ever come across has overused “that” in at least one manuscript. The one that really makes me cringe (so thankfully I don’t think I’ve done it in my own writing) is “that that.” As in “You should have known that that construction is annoying.”

Please excuse me while I shudder. Here’s a much better version of that poor example: “You should have know that construction is annoying.” Or, my personal favorite, “That construction is so totally annoying.” Can you tell I also write YA fiction?

So, if you feel like you’re the only one who struggles with revisions and overused words, know that you’re not alone. All writers struggle with this stuff at some point. We just learn to suck it up and put a little elbow grease into the work. Oh, yeah, make sure to revise clichés out of your manuscript. It’ll make editors happier.

Before you think I’m a perfect writer who no longer makes those same old mistakes I made in the beginning (don’t I wish), I’ll let you in on a little secret. I had to revise this post as I wrote it because I realized I was overusing “a lot.” Some things never change, but at least now I know to watch for them.


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