Crutch Words


Crutch Words

An integral part of writing, really of editing, is knowing your weaknesses as a writer. Previously, I touched on my plot problems, but it’s not like I can just have one weakness and be amazing at everything else.

Life would be a lot easier if it would run like that. Alas.

I want to talk about crutch words today because I think they’re a rather loaded problem. And I’m pretty sure everyone uses them. During the first draft of any piece I write, I know to just get my fingers moving on the keyboard. I need to let ideas and images spew forth organically regardless of whether I’m working on fiction or non-fiction. The rough stuff needs to be created before it can be polished. And yes, it very much needs to be polished when I decide it’s “finished.”

Experience has taught me that I like filler words–a lot. And my years of French emersion have made my rough drafts extremely wordy because I use superfluous English syntax. That’s not a technical term, obviously; I’m referring to when I do this:

What I first write: in the centre of the paw of the bear there was a red spot; versus what I edit it to: a red dot sat in the centre of the bear’s paw.

As for words I overuse, these are the main culprits:

  • And,
  • But,
  • Of,
  • That,
  • Just, and,
  • The.

I must muse, does overuse of articles count given the constraints of the English language?

I used to have an issue with “it” until one of my creative writing prof’s told my class were weren’t allowed to use it. If we had to use “it” it must be used SPARINGLY. Like, once-a-page-if-that sparingly. That was one of the single most useful pieces of writing advice I have ever received and my overall writing clarity improved exponentially from that moment.

If you’re interested in learning what some of your crutch words are, this word counter is pretty useful. I chose to include small words so I could see how often I use “and.”

I want to emphasize that as far as first drafts are concerned you shouldn’t focus on this weakness! As long as you’re aware of your issues and are prepared to perform or pay for a good, solid edit, you’ll be fine. The last thing you want to start doing is thinking to yourself, “Shit. Didn’t I just use that word a second ago?” when you’re simply trying to get words on the page. It’s better to be writing than worrying.

That said, I’m always prepared for an editing long-haul. Editing is probably my favourite part of writing since it means I have officially created my piece. No longer am I looking at a void of nothing that must be created. There is a tangible thing before me. I’m devoted to it, no matter how long it may take me to polish away the rough edges of my work. But I know a lot of people don’t have the same tender feelings for editing.

It’s give and take. Knowing your writer weaknesses and planning ahead for them, or fixing them in the end, depends on the kind of artist you are. I do a bit of both but I rely more on fixing later since editing as I go generally stifles me. What about you?


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