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Editing 101: I’m actually just fine. Mostly. Finally.

In my Editing 101 series, I’ll cover some of the most common editing mistakes authors make and give you a checklist you can use to edit your own work.

Of course, I still recommend that you hire an editor. But by using some of the tips from this series of posts, you’ll save yourself costs and save your editor some work. You’ll also end up with a better manuscript.

Today we’re going to talk about some of those overused words that don’t add to your narrative. These words will vary from author to author, but for many of us, there will be some overlap.

Us. I said us. Yes, I am every bit as susceptible to these errors as you are. I may be an editor, but I’m an author first and knowing all of these rules doesn’t mean I don’t fall victim to these same traps. In fact, I use this checklist myself now (the complete version that you’ll see at the end of this series).

My list of overused words includes the following:

  • Just
  • Finally
  • Actually
  • Mostly
  • Though
  • Softly
  • Quietly

Each of these words has one thing in common. They’re adverbs. There are a lot of writing books and websites that urge you to avoid adverbs like the plague. I don’t completely agree. See? Another adverb. I do, however, believe that most writers overuse a variety of adverbs, including all the ones listed here.

I add to this list with every manuscript.

While your words will vary, just, finally, actually, and mostly are quite often universal (at least among English speaking authors). We speak this way.

“I’ll be just a minute!” “I’m just going downstairs.” “It’s just that I’m tired and hungry.”

“I finally beat that level at one in the morning.” “She finally called me back on Thursday.” “He finally finished that novel.”

“Actually, I didn’t say that.” “She didn’t actually hear him.” “Jill couldn’t actually make it work.”

“I’m mostly fine.” “Jack mostly understands.” “Mom’s chicken is mostly done.”

When I edit (both my own work and other writers’ work), I do a standard search in Word or Scrivener for these words and try to eliminate the usage of at least 80% of them. Sometimes you just can’t write around the usage or you don’t want to. For example, in my last book, I left in one specific instance of the word just. “We’re in the North End. Just off Hanover Street.”

I wanted to convey that the action was happening very close to Hanover Street but not on the street. If I were shouting to someone in real life, this is the exact phrasing I’d use.

However, in my first draft, I also had this phrase.  He just wanted to see her naked.

I removed just from that sentence because it didn’t add anything.

Creating a checklist of overused words will greatly enhance your writing. The first book I wrote after creating my checklist was significantly cleaner than the one prior. The second book I wrote after creating my checklist had no instances of the word actually or finally. I still overused just, though. Baby steps.

Eddy Edits Master Checklist for Writers

CheckBoxEliminate or greatly reduce the usage of the following phrases: I heard, I felt, I saw, I knew, I smelled, I realized.

CheckBox

Eliminate or greatly reduce the usage of the following adverbs: just, finally, actually, mostly, softly, quietly

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