Every writer has them, those words that seem to get used over and over and over again. Sometimes they’re big, shiny words that stick out like a sore thumb, but more typically they’re everyday sorts of words — your workhorse vocabulary — that sneak their way into your prose and make it sound lackluster through repetition.
You don’t need to be writing a novel to face this problem. Any piece of writing can fall victim to favorite-words syndrome, and any type of writer, from bloggers to journalists to short-story authors. The key is to be aware of the problem and, when you’re going through to revise, be sure to check carefully for overuse of those words in particular.
Young adult author Justine Larbalestier blogged recently about her own frequently used words, and she actually made a list of her personal culprits for reference. Looking through her list, I can see a few of my own offenders. I’m constantly going back through my writing and culling out “just” and “suddenly” and a few others. Plus I’ve my own list, of course.
Next time you’re revising, pay attention to your own frequently used words, especially those you could delete entirely. “That” is one you can cut half the time, for instance. If you find yourself shaking your head over your repetition, try making a list of words that show up particularly often and hang it over your desk as a reminder to keep an eye out for them on future projects. It’s amazing how much removing a few words can liven up your writing.