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:
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.
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.
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.