The 20 words you need to weed out of your manuscript

JG Ballard's hand-edited manuscript of Crash

JG Ballard’s hand-edited manuscript of Crash

So, you’ve finished your book’s first draft. You’ve left it settle for a few weeks, maybe put it in the freezer, hid it in the shed, or slipped it into the ironing pile. Well, if you’re ready to start the second draft I would recommend that you seek and destroy certain words. You’ll be shocked by how many of them you use. Plus, by weeding them out you’ll be doing your agent, publisher and readers a huge favour. Deleting these overused words will tighten your prose and better your writing. You may be thinking that your book doesn’t need to be rewritten; that your book emerged like a cut diamond from the deepest pit of your imagination. Well, as with most things, a famous writer had an easy-to-remember quote about that:

The first draft of anything is shit
– Ernest Hemingway

The first manuscript draft for my Mrs God was peppered with redundant adverbs, among others. Once I compiled this list and weeded most of them out, the MS was in far better shape. As an example, I’ll reveal how many of the words below I had in the first draft. Honesty is the best policy!

The Top 20 Words You Need To Cull From Your Book:
1) THAT: As in ‘The general said that it was raining’. Why not ‘The general said it was raining’? It means the same thing. Or consider ‘The gruff general confirmed it was raining’. Challenge each sentence. I used the word ‘that’ – I kid you not – 820 times in my first draft! I spent an entire day weeding them out, ending up with just 182.
2) OWN: ‘She leaped into her own spaceship.’ No need for it. 429 of these in Mrs God 1.0. Now there’s 315.
3) EVEN I managed to cut this word’s appearance from 223 times to 80.
4) A VERY modest 125, down from 236.
5) REALLY: From 28 to 14. Really.
6) JUST 40 left from 172.
7) MOST of these vanished, from 117 to 46.delete
8) There were STILL 54 after cutting from 190.
9) ONLY 84 remained, from 164.
10) Most of these were SIMPLY deleted, from 50 to 6.
11) There were 27. SUDDENLY, only 15 remained.
12) These SLIGHTLY disappeared, from 25 to 4.
13) I do REALISE I cut more than half of these, from 19 to 8.
14) It SEEMS I liked using this word, from 29 to 3.
15) Didn’t hesitate for a SECOND, from 48 to 32.
16) Kicked OUT a lot of these, from 797 to 574.
17) REACH out and grab a few of these, from 67 to 52.
18) I EVENTUALLY managed to get rid of all of these, from 4 to 0.
19) I couldn’t PREVENT the loss of some of these, from 21 to 14.
20) And FINALLY, I asked this adverb to leave, from 41 to 4.

Once you’ve cut back on your use of the above words, it’ll be time to reread your book and settle on a version 2.0. It wasn’t until I was happy with version 4.0 that I handed my book over to my beta readers! Choose yours wisely. They should be people you know well enough that they understand your book is really important to you. Also, they must be good enough friends that they’ll give you an honest opinion of your story!

Don’t be alarmed if your word count is decimated after culling the words from my list. First draft is just the skeleton of your story; subsequent drafts are where you put flesh on the bones.

Remember! Don’t get it right, get it written!!

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2 comments

    1. Thanks, Nicholas! I learned the hard way ;(

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