#amwriting: search and destroy

Timid Words

When we submit our work to writing groups, we may get our excerpts handed back with certain words circled or crossed out. Sometimes these are words that fluff the prose and add a timid flavor to the narrative.  When I see these in my own work, I look at the context and often change them, because ‘timid’ is not how I want my work perceived.

My current manuscript is genre fiction. This means I need to write active prose, and these words have no power behind them. When they are overused, they don’t add to the narrative and increase the wordiness. They can also separate the reader from the experience.

In my first draft, these words are like tics–they fall out of my fingers and into my keyboard randomly, and out of my voluntary control.

Now, in the third and final draft, I am in the process of a “search and destroy” mission, seeking out instances of these words. I look at each and see how they fit into that context. If they weaken the narrative, I change or remove them. Often simply removing them strengthens the prose.

I am preparing this manuscript to be edited professionally and want to make the process as smooth as possible. In order to find the offending words, I am doing  a “global search.”

With your mouse or stylus, highlight the word you want to find every occurrence of. On the far right of the home tab, click ‘find.’ This will open the navigation pane.

Or, on your keyboard press the ‘ctrl’ key and the ‘f’ key at the same time. This is the keyboard shortcut to the navigation pane. Follow the instructions in this image:

LIRF Global Search all steps

Caution: if you are hasty or impatient a global search can be dangerous and can mess up an otherwise gorgeous manuscript.

First, the wise author realizes she is about to embark on a boring, time-consuming task. If you get hasty and choose to “Replace All” you run the risk of creating inadvertent bizarreness in your work.

Suppose you decide to simply eliminate every instance of the word “very” because you have discovered you overuse it. You open the navigation pane and  the advanced search dialog box. In the ‘replace with’ box you don’t key anything, thinking this will eliminate the problem.

Global Search prnt scrn 2

Before you click ‘replace all’ consider how many common words have the letters v-e-r-y in their makeup:

  • Every
  • Everyone
  • Everything

You can see how that could mess things up on an incredibly large scale.

To avoid tragedy, take the time to look at each example of the offending words and change them individually. What’s a day or two spent doing the job right, as compared to the year or more you’ve already spent writing that novel?

As always, while I am going through this, I look for awkward phrasing and other things that pop up when you look at your manuscript from a different view.

stop don't click replace allSo is there a quick way to do this? I’m sorry, but if there is, I haven’t found it. Every aspect of getting your book ready for the reading public must be done with the human eye, patience, and attention to detail.

There are editing programs out there, Grammarly is one, but the problem is, these programs are unable to see context. They operate by finite rules and will often strongly suggest you insert an unneeded article, or change a word to one that is clearly not the right one for that situation:

“The tea was cool and sweet, quenching her thirst.” Grammarly suggested replacing quenching with quenched, I am not sure why.

Context is defined as the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect. 

At this time in our technology, understanding context  is still a human function. Because context is so important, I am wary of relying on these editing programs for anything other than alerting you to possible comma and spelling malfunctions.

I don’t mind taking the time to visit each problem and resolve them one at a time. What I will never do again is ‘rush-to-publish,’ because that will only lead to tears. Readers can’t unsee work they despised. They won’t know how much you’ve improved because they’ll avoid all your future work like the plague.


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12 responses to “#amwriting: search and destroy

  1. A very useful post. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Stephen

    My pet-peeve (a.k.a., the thorn in my backside) is using “almost” to mean less of whatever the adjective is. I also like to type “form” when I mean “from”–because there are always a bunch of forms in my epic fantasies!


  3. ‘Form’ is one of my bugbears too.
    Great advice to beware clicking on ‘replace all’. I did it for the first time recently, when changing the name of a character called ‘Nev’. Thank goodness I checked through afterwards – amazing how many words include those three letters…


  4. Great list to create vagueness in a story. You can also add “shortly” and “barely” to the mix.


  5. Good advice. I’ve been collecting a list of these from various postings and the list is quite significant. But as you say, taking the time to do it right will pay off later.


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