Tighten Up Your Manuscript And Ditch Those Crutch Words
An Important Announcement
About Crutch Words
Today I'm talking about crutch words that you may sometimes be really guilty of overusing. So what actually is a crutch word? Well, it's certainly not a technical term in and of itself, but refers to a word that is serving as filler. We all have a few that we fall back on, obviously. Crutch words are often present in speech, where we use them for emphasis, or essentially just in order to add thinking time in the process of constructing a sentence. When this translates to the written word, I think that it makes writing a lot weaker, very woolly, far less precise.
You may have spotted a few crutch words in the previous paragraph. How many did you catch? I included the following deliberately:
- Sentence 1: “that” “sometimes” “really”
- Sentence 2: “So” “actually”
- Sentence 3: “Well” “certainly” ” in and of itself” “that is”
- Sentence 4: “that” “obviously”
- Sentence 5: “often” “essentially” “just” “in order ” “the process of”
- Sentence 6: “I think that” “a lot” “very” “far”
Did any of these add to the text? Well, some crutch words sound conversational, and lighten or soften the tone of text. For example, that “So” makes it a little more chatty, right? That may be a specific authorial choice. But the “sometimes,” “Actually,” “obviously” — are those necessary? To me, they undermine the authority of that paragraph. If I were speaking conversationally, I might find them useful for emphasis in the right context. But in a written paragraph? It sounds almost like I’m apologising for myself. Is my meaning more precise or less, because of all that filler?
Let’s look at the same paragraph without all those words:
Today I'm talking about crutch words
that you may sometimes be really guilty of overusing. So What actually is a crutch word? Well, It's certainly not a technical term in and of itself, but refers to a word that is serving as filler. We all have a few that we fall back on , obviously. Crutch words are often present in speech, where we use them for emphasis, or essentially just in order to add thinking time in the process of constructing a sentence. When this translates to the written word, I think that it makes writing a lot weaker, very woolly, far less precise.
Much cleaner and simpler, right?
Some Common Issues To Watch Out For
- Adverbs that say less than you think: actually, basically, essentially, honestly, just, mostly, often
- Adverbs that encourage you to follow them with a weak adjective: very, really, completely
- Prepositional phrases: in and of itself, at the present time, in order to, on the grounds that, a sufficient number of
- Verbal “hedges”: So… For what it’s worth… Well… The thing is…
- Using “that” in any “bridge verbs,” which are the more common speech/thought verbs: She said
thatit was late. I believe thatit will rain today. You know thathe’s lying!
Before You Get Your Red Pen Out
Many writers overuse filler words. Should you remove them all from your prose? No. Emphatically not. Firstly, there are no hard-and-fast rules, and secondly, stripping your writing bare like Hemingway is not the only valid style of writing. Your authorial style is your own and an editor’s role is never to cancel out your voice, only to help you bring out the clarity in your writing and make your voice as strong as possible. Having an editor flag your own common tics means you can be aware of them. Then you can make an informed choice about whether you want to use one every few pages, or 20 in a paragraph.
Because I’m human, I’ve got my own writing tics, so I’ve almost certainly included other crutch words in this post which are mere padding. Can you spot any?
This post was originally written as part of the Editing Tips and Tricks series in the Facebook group The Indiepreneur Writers Collective. I'm one of the editors who contributes to this series of posts for authors. Every week we provide advice on an aspect of writing, including articles about technique, editing, motivation, style, character, plotting, and marketing. New posts come out every Wednesday.