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Self-Editing 101: Spotting Overused Words

Updated: Jun 4

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In the first three pages of an unpublished manuscript, an editor, a publisher, or an agent can tell the difference between a novice writer and someone who is actively working on their craft.

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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.)

Besides overly used adverbs, some of my pet peeves are when little thought is used to describe emotions. A great resource for finding excellent alternatives (which btw also ties into "show don't tell") is the Emotion Thesaurus.

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 nonfiction bilingual editor and writer based out of Los Angeles who specializes in memoir, biographies, cookbooks, and Spanish translation reviews. She’s the author of Networking for Writers, and coauthored the award-winning book Networking for Freelance Editors: Practical Strategies for Networking Success with Brittany Dowdle.     



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