Ahh bug words. Every writer has them. Every editor cringes at them. But when it comes to polishing your own writing, they’re the easiest thing to deal with.
So what in the heck is a bug word? It’s a word that a writer uses over and over and over AND OVER without realizing that they do. And it doesn’t have to be a single word. It can be a phrase. Or something that a character constantly does. And bug words can change depending on the project. Lovely, eh?
But like I just said,they’re one of the easiest things for a writer to fix.
To really get a feel for what words you tend to overuse, read a couple of pages of your writing out loud. (Reading out loud actually helps with a crapload of things, but I’ll save that for a later post.) You’ll catch what words pop up too many times pretty much from the get go.
Once you discover your bug word(s), see if you even need it. For example, one of my most constant bug words is starting sentence off with “so”. In most cases I can just delete the word without ruining the meaning of the sentence. But sometimes you will need to replace the word with another word.
You can use the find option in your writing software to find all instances of each bug word throughout your piece. But make sure you don’t do a find and replace for all of them in one fell swoop. Then you’re just replacing one bug word with another bug word!
You’ll often hear that a true writer never uses a thesaurus. To those people I say bull, phooey, horseradish, bollux. The thesaurus can be your best friend. Pop your bug word in a thesaurus website (or look it up in a paper copy if you’re old school) and you’ll come up with a zillion different ways to say exactly what your bug word says. You’ll expand your word bank (what writer doesn’t like doing that?) while making your writing more varied and, quite often, more detailed.
Bug words can seem like one of the more tedious editing issues, but they’re super easy to deal with and knowing them helps you to get a deeper understanding of your writing.