I’ve written about these before. Probably the last time was when I used my sheet of words/phrases to analyze my most recently published book, ACT OF SURVIVAL, Book 4 The Second Chances Series, released in 2019. The list came to me originally from the great Margie Lawson. If you haven’t taken writing classes with her, you should. Act of survival 200x300

For a month and a half now, I’ve been going over TAINTED, book 8 which has an expected release date of Fall 2020. Margie’s original list which started with approximately 45 words/phrases has grown to over 75. With each book I’ve written,  I’ve found two to three or more favorite words that pop up everywhere. That’s how I’ve grown the list. 🙂

I don’t overuse all the words on the list. Some I don’t use at all, but other people did, and Margie included them. Words I never use are: in order to, by means of, for the most part, as a matter of fact.

Other words I’ve internalized and don’t use nearly as much as I used to: usually-3 times, actually 9 and I took it to 3.

So proud to tell you I only used begun 1 time, and I left it in. Began showed up 11 times and it dropped to 2.  These words are like try and tried. The Nike add says it all. Just Do It. You don’t try to do something. Of course, Margie would probably edit out the just and say, Do It. 😊

Headed was one of those words I used everywhere.  This time the word showed up 22 times in TAINTED and shrunk to 2.

I pretty much full on pantsed TAINTED, which I’ve never done before on a full book. In 2018, I pantsed a short story for the 30th anniversary anthology of the North Texas RWA chapter. The chapter had published an anthology for the 20th and 25th years, but I didn’t participate because I don’t write short stories. For the 30th I wanted to be a part. The book is Free on Amazon and the stories all take place in Dew Drop, Texas. 🙂  

West- The Colonel and her Major

The point is TAINTED ended way shorter than I expected coming in at 60 thousand words. Normally, my books are 70 to 90 K, and I agonized over how short it was. But wait, I hadn’t used my Throw-Away Words list yet. Ironically, as I check these out and figure a better way to say what I mean, I add words. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what happens. TAINTED has grown to over 66 K, and I haven’t finished the list yet.

I used thing(s)  77 times and it went down to 5 in the edit process as I explained what thing was. It’s okay to use a word like thing in your first draft, but when you edit and rewrite, it’s important to flesh out the noun. What did thing stand for?  (I haven’t done it yet. I’ve even been afraid to see how many times it’s in the ms, but it (the process) works the same way.)

Back in 2014, I stumbled across a cheat sheet by Deana Carlyle that provides alternative verbs for such words as jumped or touched ( 1000 verbs in all). As I substituted some of her verbs for my overused ones, I make certain they do not become themselves overused.


I mentioned handled above. That’s one of Carlyle’s substitutions for touched. I don’t use it that way so much as “I can handle that….” Checking the Thesaurus on the computer is also a great way to find a different verb or noun. For grabbed, I found: get hold of, grasp, clutch, grip, clasp, grapple, clench, seized, snatched, palmed.

This part of writing is the nitty gritty part—not the fun part when your fingers dash across the keys slamming your characters in and out of difficulties, and you may or may not know how it’s all going to turn out. Except for me, I know I’ll always have a Happily Ever After.


As a reader, do you realize how authors agonize over word selection? As a writer, what are some tricks you use to spruce up your writing?  If you’d like the list, I’d be happy to share. Love to hear from you.

Because I believe with all my heart in Happily Ever Afters, I believe we will get through this pandemic. But I suspect we will be changed forever. Please, friends.  Stay in. Be safe. Be well.

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Marsha,

    Excellent post! I’m also conscious of my over-used words. After finishing the first draft, I use the Search and Replace key to capitalize these words. And then I go through each individual case and make substitutions.

    Stay safe and stay healthy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey, Joanne. It’s tedious work, but I can’t imagine doing it without using search and find! Yikes. Thanks so much for stopping by. And yes, we all must stay in to be safe.


  2. Oh boy, searching for the dupes. And there is a reverse–an unusual word used too many times. I use the thesaurus online a lot.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey, Vicki. Yes, you’re right about that. You can get away with using the same 75 cent word once, but probably not twice and certainly not 3 times. Really good point. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂


  3. My critique group is wonderful for catching a lot of my duplicate and overused words. I like the Thesaurus, as well, though sometimes nothing seems to fit! lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Jacquie. Lucky you having a critique group. I haven’t had one in years. Learned a lot from them, too. And you’re right even with the Thesaurus (love it on-line–so much easier to read than my old big book with the fine print.) sometimes the word is just out of reach. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kathryn Jane says:

    Great post, Marsha. My list grew and changed as my series progressed, and now that I haven’t written a novel in a while, who knows how bad I’ll be for the next one 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Kathryn. I bet when you start up writing again, you’ll have new words and some of the old ones you will have internalized and self editing as you write. The writing process is just the oddest thing. Thanks for stopping by. Be safe. 🙂


  5. Thanks for the useful post, Marsha. It’s very hard to spot overused words in your own writing. Great idea to have a list of your own and do a search. I’m guilty of using the same character ‘tics’ – eg my characters raise their heads often, lift their brows and are perpetually gazing. I have to restrain them from doing these things. 🙂 Looking forward to your release x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Helena. Because you edit other’s works, I would’ve thought you could see things in your own writing more easily. Apparently, not. 🙂 And you know, we do “raise our eyebrows” “scrunch our forehead.” Those are real actions. If we wear glasses, we push them up on our nose. So many actions to consider. The whole thing is an intriguing process. Lucky to be involved. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂


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