Several weeks ago, I pumped my Facebook page into a social word cloud website that tallied up all the words I used and formulated it into a nifty word cloud. I was heartened to see that “Thanks” was front and center and horrified that “like” and “just” were also prominently displayed. (Immediately, I vowed to use better words like “love” and “bedraggled” more often! After all, my image as a writer was at stake!)
Do I really sound like a teenie bopper whose vocabulary has been reduced to creative combinations of crutchladen utterances?
After a few deep breaths, I reminded myself of the source of the words for the cloud: Facebook. A place where I engage in social dialogue with friends, friendly acquaintances, and family. A place where I will write “like” in the comments to underline how much I enjoyed a picture, a meme, a rant, whatever. But what’s the excuse for “just”? Well, there is none (especially since I’m pretty sure that I haven’t discoursed on issues of fairness, equity and honor–not that much, anyway). “Just” is a verbal crutch–like “well,” “so,” “still” and “y’know” (this last one, I use mostly in speech–not in my writing).
A fellow aspiring author* on the internet turned me on to the idea that these word clouds can be useful editing tools–a great way to get a snapshot of the words you use most frequently. She shared an online tool called Wordle, which I immediately used to dig up crutches in my writing. You can see her blogpost here.
I word clouded a chapter of the novel I’m editing these days…
And I was so relieved to see that many of the “crutch” words that plague my Facebook page aren’t as prominent in at lease one chapter (about 1,000 words) of my work. 🙂 In fact, I think the above word cloud, does a nice job of summing up a few elements of my story.
But if you really want to clean up your prose…
I’m thinking you might want to cut and paste smaller 300-word chunks of your writing from three different parts of your work into Wordle. Then, as you paste the terms into the Wordle field, try removing character names and other pronouns. (For example, the words “Little” and “Bit” above are actually pronouns, which is why they are so frequently used, and capitalized.)
* This blog post idea was inspired by Sacha Black, also an aspiring author, working on dystopian fantasy novels — which I’m very much looking forward to reading upon their release! In her post, she pointed her readers to one of her secrets for the quickest edit one can do. Make sure you check out her blog and Wordle!