Self-Editing Checklist of Overused Words

Are you writing a novel? See if you’ve got these plot elements in your First Act, and follow along on my blog for Acts Two and Three.


Are you revising your novel? Here’s the first half of my checklist of overused words.

  1. A lot
  2. Again
  3. Almost
  4. And
  5. As
  6. At least
  7. Back
  8. Be
  9. Began/Begin
  10. Breath(e)
  11. Brow/eyebrow
  12. But
  13. Even
  14. Eye
  15. Feel/Felt
  16. Gasp
  17. Glance
  18. Going
  19. Had
  20. Hair
  21. Has
  22. Head
  23. Hear
  24. Instead
  25. Is
  26. It
  27. It is (was/would/had)
  28. Just
  29. Know
  30. Laugh
  31. Like
  32. Look
  33. Of Course

For the rest of the list, divided into the following categories…

  • Adverbs / Prepositions—use in moderation
  • Signs of Weak Verbs—can you make the verb stronger?
  • Signs of Wordiness—cut all excess words
  • Repeated Descriptions / Actions—use in moderation
  • Repeated Pronouns—make sure the antecedent, the word they refer to, is clear
  • Filtering Language—deliver rather than present information
  • Overused by Characters / Narrator—watch sentence beginnings, especially

…click the image below.


Source: Overused Words You Should and Shouldn’t Delete

Tips for Self-editing

Even if you plan to hire an editor, it’s a good idea to edit your own work as much as possible. That said, it can be hard to edit your own work. Especially when you feel like you’ve been working on it so long that it your eyes seem to glaze over at the mere mention of it. Today I want to give you some practical tips for getting through edits.

  • Give it time. I find I pretty much always need to let a project sit for awhile before doing serious revisions. Give your brain a little time to forget some of the details so that it doesn’t just gloss over them while reading.
  • Change the font. I’m alway surprised by how effective this is in tricking my brain into thinking that I haven’t read the page a hundred times before. It’s subtle, but I’ve found it useful.
  • Print it out. I think everyone has had that experience where they notice a typo as soon as they print out a paper or hit send on an email. I don’t know why this happens, but you can use it to your advantage. Like changing the font, looking at a printed page will help your brain see the work in a fresh light.
  • Go through it backwards. This is something I suggest if you’ve made it to the line-editing stage of revisions. Start with your last sentence and then work your way to the beginning. This forces your brain to focus on the flow of individual sentences, rather than the story at large.
  • Vary your reading speed. I think sometimes it’s really helpful to go through the manuscript really slowly. Other times I like going through really fast. I notice different things depending on how fast I read.
  • Change your environment. This may be as simple as moving from your living room couch to your kitchen table. Just switch things up a little bit so that your brain is forced to pay more attention.
  • Read it out loud. Or have somebody else read it out loud, if you can. Listen to which parts make you stumble. Those are your problem areas.
  • Edit for somebody else. You’re more objective when editing for other people. Look at strengths and weaknesses in their writing. Then compare it to your writing. Are you struggling with the same things. Or are they really good at something you have a hard time with? Learn from them.
  • Refine your process. The more you edit, the more you know what works for you. You’ll get better the more you do it.


What editing tricks have worked for you? Share in the comments!

5 Tips for a Great Relationship with Your Freelance Editor

reaching outSo you’ve decided to work with a freelance editor on your book. Congratulations on taking the leap! If all goes well, you’ll wind up with not only a stronger manuscript and cleaner writing but also with a long-term partner for your current and future projects.

How do you make sure all goes well? Even if you’ve checked the editor’s experience, abilities, and compatibility for your project, how can you take that relationship from good to great? While relationships are two-sided and will also require some effort on the editor’s part, there are several constructive things you can do as you interact with your editor.

  1. Understand the terms ahead of time.

Misunderstandings are a huge strain on the writer-editor relationship, so do your part to make sure they don’t happen. Read the editor’s website and contract carefully before entering into an agreement. If they say something is required, it’s required. If they don’t say they’ll do specific tasks for you, like ghostwriting or formatting, that means they probably don’t do those parts of the process.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions ahead of time to make sure you’re on the same page. Your editor will be happy to clarify their policies, and you’ll get the chance to ask for your specific needs to be met and make sure they’re possible and expected.

  1. If you need more work done, pay more.

At the beginning of the editing job, you and your editor will agree on a specific price for a specific amount of work, whether that’s an hourly or flat rate. If, after the editor completes the work, you decide you need a little more advice or edits of updated portions of the book, don’t ask them to work pro bono on those extra hours. Some editors will allow for multiple rounds of revision or coaching, but remember point #1: you need to make sure it’s in the terms of your agreement ahead of time.

A good editor loves their job and wants to give you the best possible value on the work you’re paying them to do. Don’t stress them out by forcing them to choose between having to tell you “no” and losing work time that they could have put on the clock elsewhere.

  1. Trust your editor’s advice.

Ideally, you took the time to check out your editor’s credentials before you hired them. Do they have proper training and knowledge to help develop your book? Do they understand grammar, punctuation, and the specifics of a style manual well enough to give you a quality copyedit? Did you talk with them about your project and get a sample edit done to make sure they can deliver what they said they’ll deliver? If so, trust that they know what they’re doing.

One of the more frustrating things that happens to an editor is that an author hires them to improve their book and then doesn’t let them actually improve it. If your editor says the organization of your chapters isn’t clear, don’t tell them it’s “good enough” just because you don’t want to change it. Ask questions. Learn. Understand what they see, and then decide how to make use of it. In the same way, if you know they understand their style manual, don’t flip out at their corrections of your comma usage or parallelism. If something sounds strange, ask—a good editor will be able to point you to the rules they’re following.

You hired this editor because you believe they’re an expert; trust them to truly be that expert.

  1. Don’t make demands.

You retain all rights to your book; your editor retains all rights to their own time and processes. You’re coming to them as a client, not as an employer, so what you’re paying for is a service, not the right to be their boss. If there is a certain way you would like things done, it’s important to—you guessed it—mention it ahead of time! Good freelance editors are a friendly, helpful bunch on the whole, so there’s a fair chance they can work it in.

If they tell you “no” because something you’re hoping for goes against their policies or procedures, don’t conclude that they’re being unreasonable. They’re just doing what’s best for their business and clients as a whole, and a client who tells them how to do what they do isn’t going to help anything—or get any results. If it’s vital to you to find an editor who will chat via phone or edit using a specific program, don’t get upset at the ones who don’t—they’re not doing anything wrong. Simply look for one who does.

  1. Share your vision.

Why does your editor do what they do? If you’re not sure, ask them—they’ll likely be excited to share their passion. What you’ll discover in most good freelancers is a love for story and language and a commitment to come alongside authors to make their work the best it can be.

We want to partner with you! As you begin a job with an editor, whether they’re coaching you on your story or copyediting your late draft, share your vision. Tell your editor why you’re writing what you’re writing, what excites you about it, and how you picture the end result. Your love for and your commitment to your project will be contagious, and once your editor catches that vision and excitement, your book will have gained a partner for life.

It’s a relationship.

The way a writer and their editor interact is a relationship, and like all relationships, a strong one takes time and effort. When you put the time into sharing your vision, respecting your editor’s time and knowledge, and double-checking expectations ahead of time, that effort won’t go unnoticed.

As a freelance editor, if I see you acting that way as a writer, I’m going to return your respect and commitment to this partnership. I will answer your questions, get excited about your book, cut no corners in the advice and corrections I give you, and do my best to make the process smooth and convenient for you.

Your book is your baby, and a good editor is going to come alongside you to help it grow into a strong, healthy manuscript. To build up the writer-editor relationship from good to great, encourage an environment of trust and respect by implementing the five tips above. Your editor, if they’re worth anything at all, will reciprocate with their own time and attention. There will be much less stress in the process, and both you and your editor will be happier and healthier for it.


Some Thoughts on Dialogue


I once read a book where the characters and their words clashed like navy socks with black shoes.

It was a tale of kings and palaces in a world of lavish customs and strictly held decorum. Yet, the dialogue between the two teenage protagonists—one of whom was royalty—was colloquial…and not in a good way. There were many awkward uses of “hey” and, if my memory can be trusted, even a use of “cool” (yes, as in, “Yeah, that sounds cool.”).

I wanted to like the story. I wanted to root for the characters and their inevitable happy ending. Yet, I stumbled over the unnatural dialogue the entire length of the book. Needless to say, it is not among my favorites.

The characters and their speech didn’t fit. I didn’t believe a young prince would speak as candidly and carelessly as he did in the world in which he lived. And as a result, I didn’t believe his character.

On the other side of the spectrum, I once read a novel where the prose was very casual, yet the characters spoke very formally to one another. In fact, this particular author chose to rarely include contractions in dialogue. A conversation between the protagonist and her best friend felt more like a political debate than a girls’ night out.

Simply put, voice matters—especially in dialogue.

My fellow editors just hosted a contest where each piece was assessed on the author’s use of voice. In fact, the contest’s “tagline,” if you will, was “Voice is King.”

So, how do you write believable dialogue brimming with a character’s voice?

Here are a few tips:

  • The character’s speech should sound like the character. As a general rule, a teenager should sound like a teenager. A prince should sound like a prince. And if they don’t, there should be a good reason why. For example, the teenager is a former spelling bee champ, and thus, has a larger vocabulary. Or the prince would rather charm young maidens than learn how to govern his kingdom. Otherwise, a run-of-the-mill teenager wouldn’t use the word “acrimonious,” and a dignified ruler wouldn’t walk up to a pretty girl and say, “Hey. What’s up?”
  • Read some of the greats. Sure, Shakespeare knew a thing or two about dialogue, but unless you’re writing a period piece, I’d steer clear. Reading modern plays or screenplays, however, is a different story. Plays and movies are mostly dialogue. Pick one up. Or take great notes during a movie. If that’s not your thing, John Green is pretty much the master of teenage wit. And J.K. Rowling successfully wrote thousands of pages in which three children became adults, so there’s a full spectrum to study. Jhumpa Lahiri also does this beautifully in The Namesake, a book that follows a young boy from birth well into adulthood.
  • Fill out a character questionnaire. The more you know about the character, the better you will be able to write his or her voice. Here’s one and two that I like.

For the record, writing dialogue can be really hard. After all, writing can—and often is—difficult. But if there is a story to tell, I believe it’s worth the blood, sweat, and tears. So, friends: battle on.