Weeding out the Words

I love gardening. By gardening I mean flowers, usually perennials but some annuals. Vegetable/fruit gardens and I have not figured out our groove yet. Birds eat my blueberries and raspberries, the apple trees struggle to grow, and when they finally did thrive this year (I counted over 40 apples between the Macoun and Golden Delicious) in a matter of 48 hours some creature stole and ate them ALL. Yes, all. Oh wait, my son pointed out I have one little apple left. One. (insert my hysterical sobbing). I planted pumpkins once…only male flowers grew. And other vegetables…dead before they can even start. It’s not my forte (yet).

But flowers, oh lovely flowers. I’m a bit obsessed. They are my happy place. Living in frosty New England, I spend eight months waiting for them…nurturing, replacing, pruning, and watching. I have multiple gardens. I protect them with mulch but I also stock them full, so full that by mid-summer you can’t see the mulch, only blissful bouquets of day lilies, daisies, sage, lupine, irises and peonies, tall phlox, black-eyed susan, hydrangea, and many more. So full that you can’t see the weeds. (insert my best sneering laughter, bohahah!)

Oh, those weeds are there. They may be surrounded by gorgeous stalks of vibrant color, shape, and smell, but every now and then a tall spindly one pokes its mischievous head through. Despite my best effort to prevent weeds, they arise. Many remain hidden among the splendor. My plan is to hide them. Let the flowers outshine them. However, upon close inspection this doesn’t always work.

See where I’m going with this? Yup, weeding our words. I have a master list (see below) of the overused or weak words I stumble upon. It’s the part of editing nobody tells you about (I’m not sure everyone even does it; maybe some are master weeders as they write). I have my pitfall words I search for and destroy (at a 50-75% cut rate): out, up, down, over, more, even, day, one, just, still, so many, back, to name a few (I counted over 300 “up” before editing my current manuscript). However, there are the other words, perhaps not as overused, but equally weak. These include filter words (words that pull the reader out of the story, causing them to stumble), adverbs (eek, the dreaded –ly words, but hey, I leave some in!), or plain words that could use some spice.

We all have our own unique pitfall words. For some reason, I liked to overuse forms of the word “force” in my women's fiction manuscript. And I as I edit another one, my historical romance, I have over 50 instances of "kin". Kin, kin, kin everywhere! Oh, and too many "brutes" and "heathens". Those are all not necessarily weak words, but they are overused. My heroine has far too many weak phrases (they are getting cut, so I won't share them!) and I've employed too many of the weak words: "also, granted, in fact, rather, all, just, some, a few."  I also like to use "that", "these", and "those" when "the" should suffice -- insert more cutting! Although it's a different editing point to address, be mindful of was and -ing phrases (e.g. was buzzing, was being, was going to , was sleeping, etc.)

How do we weed these words?

I save this type of editing for last. First, grab some coffee or tea and get comfortable. Second, search. Unsure what to use? Try a word bubble/count website such as Wordart. Or locate lists online of crutch words, weak words, active verb lists, etc. I have created my own list over time and with each manuscript, new overused words creep in. Lists are pretty easy to find online. Third, cut or replace at least half of them. Yes, half. It’s tedious but worth it. I find that sometimes I over-weed – is there such a thing? On the next read through, I may add some of the words back in to keep the natural voice and flavor of the manuscript.


The cut list:

  • Adverbs (not all, but many)

  • Filter Words

  • Weak/crutch words

  • Weak verbs

  • Your own unique overused words (we all have them!)


It’s a fun game. Weed, add, weed, add…but eventually I find the happy place where the simple beauty of the words blends in with a few weeds to form a harmonious garden.

Big weak words.jpg