Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Self-Editing Tips and Tricks: Watch Words

Wordle: ME

Welcome to a new series of articles describing tips and tricks for cleaning up and self-editing your own manuscript!

Watch Words. What are they? Any of my clients can tell you – and they’ll most likely do so with a little shiver because I’ve harped on the concept more than a few times!

Watch Words and Watch Phrases! Every author has these – little authorial hiccups that you don’t notice as youre writing, but, when compounded over hundreds of pages, become very distracting to the reader. I’ve seen some funny ones: “harpy,” “zitty (which is not ACTUALLY a word),” and “fake butter” that jump right out at you when used over and over again, but others are sneakier. For instance, the word “know” seems pretty harmless. But when “know” shows up 392 times in a 392 page manuscript, each instance is enough to drive the reader to distraction, effectively pulling us right out of your gripping story – the last thing you want!
When I edit a manuscript, I always circle or highlight the Watch Words and provide the author with a list. But you can get started and purge your manuscript of the most egregious offenders all on your own with a little internet magic!

  1. Open up your manuscript in Word.
  2. Open your favorite word-mapping program. Don’t have a favorite? Use Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/).
  3. Copy and paste your entire manuscript into the mapping interface.
  4. Marvel over the HUGE words.

Don’t have any giant outliers? Good for you! Are your biggest words your characters’ names and “the,” “and,” or “a”? Kudos!

Is your biggest word “potato”? Or “blue”? Or “eyes” or “elbows” or “lips” or any one distinct body part? Is it an adverb of some sort? Well congratulations to you too, because you’ve just found your biggest Watch Words, and you’re ready to self-edit those little buggers right out of your manuscript.

Back in MS Word, turn on track changes. Now, using the search-and-replace function, search for that Watch Word, then tell the program to replace it with the same word but bolded, italicized, or highlighted – whatever is going to pop out at you best. Have a few Watch Words? Highlight them all! Now you have an easy-to-use map, right there in your manuscript. Enjoy!

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