Finding Your Crutch Words

crutch words

Heather R. Todd joined our April #BBchat to give manuscript editing tips and talk about finding your crutch words.

crutch wordsFor the April edition of our #BBchat Twitter chat, we asked Heather R. Todd – professional editor, published writer, and marketing consultant from FirstEditing – for her thoughts on finding your crutch words and to get advice about manuscript editing. Heather prefaced this month’s chat with a guest post on the same subject titled “Crutch Words: Why They Cripple Your Writing.”

To view the entire chat transcript, please visit this link. Below is a reformatted version of our discussion.

Who’s with us today in #BBchat? Please introduce yourself and let the conversation begin!

Hello there! This is Heather Todd from FirstEditing. Glad to be here today to discuss crutch words. Thanks for the invite!

What are “crutch words” and why do they cripple your writing?

Crutch words consist of those phrases or words which we use repetitively in our speech and writing. Avoid them. When speaking, crutch words are the “ums” and “ahs” which we insert to give us a moment more for thinking. Writers’ crutch words tend to be easy, unimaginative descriptions and/or repetitive transitional phrases. The overuse of the verb “to be” is a common crutch word. It should be replaced with an active verb. Often a writer says “is/was/were” instead of using action verbs. Remove this and create more interesting stories. Basically, crutch words are unique to each writer. They become the author’s “Achilles’ heel.” By being aware of and eliminating crutch words, one becomes a stronger writer, creates more interesting novels, and better prepares oneself for agent reviews and future publication, preventing future embarrassment as well.

How do you find your crutch words? Is it as simple as “Find and Replace” on Word?

Finding your crutch words is one part of the time-consuming editing of your novel and writing style. Editing requires being able to approach your manuscript from a neutral position, which is not easy for most people. When eliminating crutch words, many people seek the help of a professional editor. To get started self-editing, I would first learn more about the most common crutch words used by most writers. There are many helpful references online if you simply Google “finding your crutch words” or other similar phrases. A quick sample of crutch words include: went, quite, truly, is/was/were, very, actually, really, have/had, so, anyway, could/should/would, literally, almost, all, etc. Here’s a great PDF list of crutch words from Writers Helping Writers.

Once you identify crutch words, begin to identify some of your writing weaknesses and address them more clearly. Have detail-oriented friends/colleagues read your writing with instructions to seek out crutch words or phrases, and use the crutch word list to complete your first self-edit. Of course, ask your editors what they think are your specific crutch words so you can improve in the future. Ask your editors where you can give better descriptions in your novel. Pay attention to the verbs you have selected. Remember to remain receptive and open to suggestions you receive during editing. It’s a constant learning process.

In regards to “Find and Replace,” it is one tool of many, but it is not THE solution. Finding crutch words requires human eyes to see the repetition. So start with a fresh re-read. Take notes. A good thesaurus and the creative use of synonyms can be helpful when eliminating your crutch words. You will discover that entire sentences and paragraphs must be rewritten to create a more active and interesting story. Give your editor your list of crutch words so they can assist with rewrites, substitutions, eliminations, etc. Editing software programs can scan your writing and find words you’re over-using or verbs that are too passive. Use all the tools you can when editing and eliminating crutch words. Removing crutch words is part of the writing process–one of the many edits before releasing your work publicly.

What benefit does reading your manuscript out loud offer?

Reading your novel out loud allows you to experience your writing in another perspective. You discover more. Reading out loud engages your story in a different format and allows you to be more neutral in your self-editing. When reading silently, our eyes skip over small errors, awkward words, run-on sentences, repetitive phrases, and typos. By reading aloud, you force yourself to notice everything from spelling and word choice to the structure of sentences. Here is a good guide to self-editing from the University of Minnesota.

Why do some writers get stuck in their comfort zone, and how can they get out of it?

Writers are human. We are all creatures of habit, and crutch words are part of this. Crutches – the same words, verb tenses or transitional phrases – allow us to think and compose faster. Crutch words may destroy the story we’re attempting to create, so authors must beware of the easy path when writing. Fortunately, we can also enlist good habits to improve our writing by self-editing again and again and again. I recommend maintaining an individual list of crutch words. Use this to self-edit each writing session. Editing out crutch words is a small but very important step in becoming a successful author.

What are some examples of the most common words you see being overused?

Here’s another sample of common crutch words: went, quite, truly, is/was/were, very, actually, really, have/had, etc. More crutch words to avoid: so, anyway, could/should/would, literally, almost, all… Additional crutch words: that, it, well, seem/s… Crutch words commonly include adverbs ending in –ly. Transition crutch words: however, thus, anyhow, and nevertheless. There are many crutch words but they do not all apply to everyone equally. Using crutch words is very personal. Finding your crutch words often requires a neutral editor to assist. So seek help! Using these words sparingly is ok. It is the overuse of any particular word or phrase which makes it a crutch word.

Once it has been determined that a rewrite will be necessary, what questions should the writer ask herself?

Ask yourself:

  • Are these words adding anything to the meaning of the sentence? Do they enhance the story?
  • Will it alter the story to remove the crutch words?
  • Can the crutch words be replaced with a more unique description or active verb?
  • Can the entire sentence be made shorter by using different words? Does this improve my message?

There are many different kinds of editors available, so how do you identify what kind you need?

Selecting the right editor for you is dependent upon many different factors. Take your time and do your research:

  • Do you know what your writing weaknesses are?
  • Do you have specific requests or guidelines that you must follow?
  • Are you under a time crunch? Do you have the time and patience for a friend/colleague or part-time freelancer?
  • Does your editor have experience getting authors published?
  • Are you self-publishing or submitting to agents?
  • Are you in need of proofreading, line-editing or an editorial critique? Are you sure? Find out.

Many people can’t answer all these questions specifically OR they are unaware of their own writing weaknesses. I always recommend getting an editorial critique of your writing. Find out what you need before hiring an editor. Have any potential editor edit a portion of your writing and then tell you what they believe is most helpful. Ask for a list of references from your editor. Determine a timeline for delivery. Always get a FIRM price. Editing can drag out for a long time with freelancers who have work and lives to juggle. How will this affect you? Find out what happens if the editor is late or if you’re unsatisfied with the quality of editing provided.

Is it helpful to share your writing with friends and family or is it best to leave it to the professionals?

When editing you want neutral and professional assistance. Can a friend or family member provide that? Really? If you have family or friends who can give you honest, accurate feedback and corrections, CONGRATULATIONS! Don’t jeopardize relationships or sit in editing limbo for a year while waiting for friend & family editorial help. A good editor provides excellent corrections, improvements, and suggestions in a predetermined time frame. A professional editor maintains a neutral position while looking honestly into your writing style. When searching for an editor, I always recommend getting a FIRM price quote with no hidden add-ons. Of course, a satisfaction guarantee for the money invested in editing is also a necessary factor when hiring.

What are some ways to beat self-editor’s block and speed up the re-writing process?

The first step is always the hardest. So to defeat self-editor’s block, start with editing one page. Just one page. That’s how you start self-editing. Once you start, you normally don’t stop. However, if you do stop, you’ve at least achieved success with that one page. Completing that one first page feels good. Thus, you will either continue, or come back for the next page tomorrow.

How important is it to invest in outside, professional help to review your manuscript and prepare it for publishing?

The most important investment is in making the best first impression. Professional editing allows you to succeed. Editing can cost anywhere from pennies/word to thousands of dollars. We encourage you to shop around. Always get a free sample from the editor you are considering so that you can SEE what your editing will look like. Yes, there is always free editing from colleagues and friends, but the final edit needs to be guaranteed great. Our editors work as a team, providing personalized service with a satisfaction guarantee. All for pennies per word. At the end of the day, you have to decide what your reputation is worth!


Keywords Guide


Related Posts
Crutch Words: Why They Cripple Your Writing
You’ve Finished Your Manuscript – But Your Book’s Not Ready For Publishing
Humans Vs. Robots: When (And Why) You Should Use Editing Tools
Use All Five Senses To Enrich Your Writing
How To Turn A Good Manuscript Into A Great Manuscript
7 Ways An Algorithm Can Help You Write A Better Novel



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.