Writing Foibles and Personal Word Traps

Google images - binoculars

When the writing muse takes hold and my fingers start moving at lightning speed over the keyboard, I litter the pages with my personal word traps … combinations or single words that I dump into my writing at an alarming rate. I don’t see these repetitions going in and I don’t see them when I do multiple readings. As the perpetrator of these writing foibles, I am utterly blind to their existence.

You can only imagine my joy when I discovered the find function in Word. If you haven’t used this Word function magic – though I suspect I was the last in the world to discover it – you will see it on the upper right hand menu bar beside an icon of binoculars – so fitting!

I’m in the process of editing two novels right now. Yesterday, I plugged in the words – and then – to the find function and no less than one hundred and twenty incidents of using this troublesome combination came up. Another of my foibles is the word just. I sprinkle that word through my work the way a heavy-handed salt lover would dust a plate of fries. And once I get into the editing process, the word is as hard to spot as those individual grains of salt would be.

After going through the editing process with my first two novels and a book of short stories, I believed – quite naively – that I had learned my lesson. The problem words and combinations had been pointed out to be and I had set myself the task of rooting them out. Surely, I would now cease to write in this way. Alas, it is not to be. The find function continues to reveal my personal bug-a-boos.

Since I am probably the only writer guilty of such heavy usage of the find function to locate incidents of – and then, or just – I will share some of the other useful aspects of this word processor miracle. I have a notebook in which I’ve jotted down specific words that constantly trip me up. Things like – roommate is one word; full-time is hyphenated, halfway is one word. All I need do is plug in half way as two words and the find function will instantly alert me to all the times I’ve made this error. I also check my common typos – for example, Crate Lake instead of Crater Lake.

When we get to line-by-ling editing of anything I’ve written, my editor will be thrilled to learn that I have started a new section in my notebook entitled – Find function tasks before sending any portion of this manuscript for editing. The list is long but thankfully Word is fast.

I’ll leave you today with a small section of Chasing Down the Night – the third book in the Crater Lake Series, coming out in late spring of this year! Editor input made this passage smooth as a stone polished by the waves of millennium and nary a just or and then to be had.

Izzy stared out the window to the harbour. Sunshine danced above the surface of the choppy water and glinted off the metal of the boats jostling against the dock. The bright white bodies and yellow beaks of seagulls stood out against the clear blue sky as they swooped and set up a raucous cacophony of sound. Beyond the tightly-packed pleasure boats, the fishing fleet was coming in. Grey, hulking seiners lumbered past the breakwater towards the commercial wharf. Hemmed in by massive creosoted pilings, the wide structure dwarfed the vehicles and people that moved about on it like so many colourful playthings being pushed around on a toy room floor. The already noisy harbour was suddenly dominated by the roar of a seaplane. Wide pontoons skimmed the waves before the plane lifted into the air on wings buffeted to and fro by the wind.

Dock - Guenette photo

13 comments on “Writing Foibles and Personal Word Traps

  1. smilecalm says:

    wonderful embrace
    of word tools
    for business & pleasure 🙂

  2. melparish says:

    I have a long list of words that I check on Find before I publish my manuscript, including just! It is also a good way of checking that you don’t have your characters smiling or scowling too often. As a Brit whose books are based in the US, I have a list of British words to check too. No matter that I’ve been in the US for many years now, I always find the odd Britishism that has slipped in.

    • Good point, Mel. I do search for things like shrugged, smiled, frowned or shook his or her head. As much as people in real life are constantly doing such things, our readers seldom want to read about it over and over.

  3. jane tims says:

    Hi Fran. My ‘foible’ is repeating the same word within the same paragraph. It happens all the time. I can usually catch them on a ‘read aloud’. Jane

    • The read aloud stage is so useful for catching the repetitions. Somehow, when you hear the word read a loud twice in such a short time frame it sticks out like a sore thumb. I often catch the overuse of a character’s name at that point.

  4. Behind the Story says:

    Even when we know what we should avoid, it’s hard to change our habits. “Find” is a good way to catch overused words.

    • I was amazed (when I read through the webpage link I provided in this post) to discover how much the Find Function can actually do and how it can be refined for very specific searches. It appears, so far, I’ve been using it much like a complicated microwave oven that I only reheat coffee with.

  5. Roy McCarthy says:

    There are a few simple editing programs out there that help catch repetitions, cliches etc. As you say, someone else – or a mechanical function – is more likely to catch these than the writer is. My downfall is the word ‘however’ which is actually pretty useless. ‘Find’ is only good if you know what you’re looking for 🙂
    Thank you for the extract which has whetted my appetite for this next book.

  6. Gallivanta says:

    An excellent use of the find function.

  7. P. C. Zick says:

    Amazing to analyze our writing in that way. I’m always astounded at what I find.

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