Whatever kind of book you’ve written, in whatever genre, with whatever point of view and narrative tone, you overuse words.

Now, I’m not going to tell you to avoid adverbs or never write in passive voice or whatever. I don’t believe you should excise an entire category of words from your writing vocabulary. These types of words exist; it’s silly to pretend they don’t. But there are certain words that pop up more often in a manuscript than they should.

You know the ones I’m talking about. You’re probably familiar with lists of commonly overused words. Like this one:

Look
Turn
Start
Smile
Feel
Begin
Slowly
Suddenly
Glance

And so on. But there’s another category of words that you overuse, that are special and unique to you. Here’s a section of mine:

Chuckle
Shrug
Snort
Eyebrow/brow
Glare
Morass
For a moment

And so on.

Take some time this week and just read your book. Don’t change things, don’t edit them, just read it. Soak it in. See which words you tend to use, and in which situations you tend to use them. I guarantee you’ll find an overused word you weren’t expecting.

The more you write, the more familiar you’ll become with your personal overused word list. (I recommend keeping an actual list. It’s helpful.) When you finish a piece, do a search for those words, and then try this:

1. Ask yourself, “Did I choose this word to go here, or did I slip into my default?”

2. If you did not choose the word, make a conscious decision about which word would better serve your sentence.

3. If you decide that your go-to word really is the best one to use, make that conscious choice to use it, and move on.

Choosing your words on purpose gives you a greater grasp of your book’s prose. It puts you in control of your vocabulary, rather than letting your default words seep into every possible sentence. You don’t need to banish your default words; just make sure that when you use them, it’s because you made a choice to do so.

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