No, I am not crazy. I’m just really, really anal.

Last week I posted an article about word clouds and how you can use them to spot overused words.

One of the comments, from a dear friend and fantastic author, was this:

Think GirlOk, 300 – 400 times out of 80,000+ words? That’s like what, .005% of your words are the same? seriously woman? You crack me up. 

It got me thinking. “Am I crazy?”

Well yes. Just ask my kids.

But also, no.

I don’t look at 400 occurrences as .005% of the words being the same. My mind calculates the problem as “that word appears at least once a page”.

But, you might say, the words won’t be on EVERY page.  Yes. This is true. However, that means if I skip one page, there might be a page somewhere that has the overused word twice in it. Even worse if there are places where the word might appear more than twice on a page.

And in my worst nightmares, something like this happens. This is an actual screenshot of a page in on of my manuscripts, pre-editing.

1 book page

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Here is the thing: Repetitive use of a word stands out to the reader. Especially when the words appear close together.

As a rule, I try not to use a word more than once every ten pages.

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Well, that’s what I shoot for. It doesn’t always happen. If I can’t do ten pages (and I try very hard to hit this mark) I try to not repeat in less than five pages.

On rare occasion, I do go less.  But 5-10 pages is what I shoot for.

Is it crazy?

It can take me a week to get rid of a very frequently used word. Sometimes when I’m doing this kind of edit I want to give up and not care… but the end product is unbelievably worth it. I find myself rethinking paragraphs. I find new and interesting ways to describe things. Being this detail oriented takes my writing to a whole new level.

Crazy? Yes.

But for me, it’s a good kind of crazy.cropped-fire-banner-final2.png

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11 responses to “No, I am not crazy. I’m just really, really anal.

  1. Yes, ma’am. You are a good kind of crazy AND an exceptional role model for the hard work that goes into getting your story into publishable shape.

  2. Wow, I need to look into these programs. I have a tendency to overuse favorite words, and would love to find a better way of catching them. What makes me crazy is when I read a published book and begin to notice repetitive words or phrases. Most recently – a book where someone rolled their eyes every couple of pages. Don’t editors watch for stuff like that?

    • They are supposed to, but sometimes what sticks out to one person does not get “caught” by another. That’s why I love having 6+ beta readers if I can get them. This “water” problem was actually pointed out by a beta reader. I hadn’t noticed and it was not one of the “normal” words on my radar.

  3. Not crazy at all! I’ve been using wordle for the same thing. I even found a program online that searches for repetitive words right next to each other. It’s something that I think every writer has to look out for.

  4. This ‘anal’ habit is something I learned from you, Jennifer, and I thank you. I haven’t dragged out my WIP MS lately, but anytime I write, I try to stay aware. 🙂

  5. I didn’t realize I was crazy! I guess that means my editor (who gives a list of words to check for overuse) is crazy too? Seriously though, there is nothing crazy about this – it’s good editing. We all have word-tics and get into word ruts. I’d say it’s crazy not to do it (or just plain lazy – especially when most word-processing apps make it so easy – Scrivener has a word-usage frequency report built in!)

    • Hi Darcy! Yes, it is important, but I can easily see why many people don’t like to do it to the degree that I do. It’s hard, and really, really time consuming. Yes, I have spent an entire week of my writing time getting used to just one horrible overused word. It’s soooo hard!