Self-Editing 101: Spotting Overused Words

Updated: May 11

The Amateur vs the Prepared Writer

In the first three pages of an unpublished manuscript, an editor, a publisher, or an agent can tell the difference between a novice writer and someone who is actively working at their craft.


Google Docs, or Grammarly will underline problematic words, pointing them out loudly. Those are the initial “oversights” you should fix before submitting your work to an agent, editor, or publisher, aka your first serious readers.

But, other words on the page will raise a red flag too. The first ones that pop up after reading a few pages are the overly used words. The “really’s,” the “very’s,” the “amazing’s.” Red flag, red flag, red flag.

Remind yourself that self-editing puts you ahead of the submission crowd. Review your text for overused words. Don’t come across as an amateur, even if you are one (we are all amateurs at one point or another in our lives, but we can also choose to improve our craft.) Be smart, and take your time to spot these important problem words. Then, find replacements that enhance your text, your dialogue, or your scene descriptions. (Check out The Top Ten Golden Rules of Self-Editing here.)

From an Editor’s Perspective

When I begin working with an author, and they aren’t sure what type of editing they need, I’ll do a quick read of a chapter from the middle of their manuscript. It takes just one read to discover words that are being used, overly used, or even abused. To help you overcome that hurdle, here is a list that points out those little suckers so you can fix them before you submit your work to another pair of eyes.

Remember, your submissions should be your best work.

You only get one chance at making a first impression.

If you enjoyed this article, and want to continue doing your best work, consider signing up for my tiny newsletter. You’ll be notified when the next post is up, and of tips, tools, books, and classes I think may be of value (“subscriber bar” at the bottom of the page). I promise to never misuse your information.


Linda Ruggeri is a full-service editor and project manager based out of Los Angeles, fluent in English, Spanish, and Italian. She is also the coauthor of the historical memoir Stepping Into Rural Wisconsin: Grandpa Charly’s Life Vignettes from Prussia to the Midwest. Linda is on LinkedIn at The Insightful Editor, and on Instagram, where she likes to review books and posts tips for writers and editors. Her latest book with coauthor and fellow editor Brittany Dowdle is Networking for Freelance Editors, now available online.

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