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Clichés and Adverbs – Editing your Work

This weekend I spent a lot of time editing my manuscript. As I said last week, I had to stop and take a step back from it in order to check that I was going in the right direction. I decided to start editing from the beginning, especially after giving the first few thousand words to my writing group and getting feedback on it (terrifying prospect, but wonderfully positive). So after adding to and cutting words, I don’t know if I ended the week on a net loss of words. That’s ok though because I am happy with the way it is shaping up.

I have been focusing on adverbs and clichés. I did a search of the text to find all the words ending with ‘ly’ in order to check whether they were necessary or whether I had been lazy with my writing and could substitute them for something better. This took a while and I didn’t remove all of them because some are used in dialogue and I think if that’s the way someone speaks, then it’s ok to leave in. I don’t consciously check what I say to see if I’m using unnecessary adverbs, do you?

When it comes to clichés, I know from the professional edit of my manuscript that I used a number of them. What scares me most is that I don’t know the difference between clichés and every day language. Of course there are the blindingly obvious ones that everyone knows: ‘opposites attract’, ‘as old as the hills’, ‘all is fair in love and war’, ‘the writing is on the wall’, but there are so many more. In fact, I did a search and found a blog post that lists over 600 of them, written in alphabetical order and that is not a definite list. How are you supposed to refer between a list of that length and your own text? It could take forever.

‘Needless to say’ ‘for some curious reason’ I’ve used ‘a number of’ clichés in my writing ‘without thinking’. ‘Little did I know’ that ‘things were getting out of hand’ and ‘it came as no surprise’ that by removing them, my writing had the potential to be ‘better than ever’.

Ok, so this sentence might be a little over-the-top, but I wrote it to make a point. They are all common, everyday phrases that editors can’t stand and I personally think that spotting them can be tricky.

In my determination to find an easier way to find the clichés in my writing, I came across a website that has an Editing programme. It allows you to upload a maximum of 1000 words at a time for free (more if you pay to become a premium member) and get an analysis on it. The programme checks the grammar, sticky sentences, overused words, redundancies and clichés. This is such a useful tool for doing early editing. Yes, I did have some clichés in there and yes, they were ones that I would never have picked up on my own. They were things like ‘thank goodness’ and ‘wait and see’ – both of these were used in dialogue as well.

I’m glad I found this editing programme because I will definitely use it from now on. My plan is to edit as I go, to make it easier on myself in the long run. If I get the first three chapters polished, who knows, I may even send them out to an agent whilst I get on with the rest.

I know that this week’s What I’m Writing has a theme of ‘What I’m NOT Writing’ and I can say that although I’ve been writing, a lot of my week has been about removing or replacing words. Editing is tough, especially when you want to get on with writing your story, but doing it definitely helps you refine and focus, if nothing else.

How do you edit and what things do you look out for when you do?

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Comments (0)

  1. maddy@writingbubble 3rd March 2015 at 11:51 am

    I know what you mean about cliches – we use then so often in normal speech that it’s hard to notice them. A bit like when letters in a word are switched round but your brain compensates and just reads the word as you’d expect to see it. In editing my picture books I’ve been focusing on overuse of certain words and repeated rhymes and I have to read out loud a lot to see if things scan! That’s an interesting editing site you’ve found. Thanks for sharing and linking to #whatimwriting

    • Nicola Young 3rd March 2015 at 6:46 pm

      The ones I’ve found, I didn’t consider as cliched, so I would never have spotted them. Working in rhyme must be really difficult, but reading out loud is a good idea. I do that with most things I write.

  2. Mummy Tries 3rd March 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Oooh I love the idea of that editing software, although only doing 1000 words at a time would take ages to go through a full length manuscript wouldn’t it. Worth bearing in mind for the future though. Loving your tips Nikki, always so useful 🙂

    • Nicola Young 3rd March 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Yes it’s a bit laborious, which probably leads you to subscribe to the premium edition (it wasn’t expensive though). I thought as I’m doing the editing on the go, doing 1000 words at a time isn’t too difficult though. It’s only a guide, but it does help me spot some mistakes I wouldn’t have spotted on my own.

      • Mummy Tries 3rd March 2015 at 7:03 pm

        That’s a good point actually, 1000 word snippets is probably a good thing when editing. Certainly worth doing because it’s incredible how many little mistakes sneak their way in!

  3. redpeffer 3rd March 2015 at 7:06 pm

    It’s something I’m aware of as I write. Sometimes I realise that what I’ve written is a cliche and will change it straight away. Other times I only notice after re-reading-I do find reading aloud really useful for identifying things like this. The software sounds interesting though.

  4. Emily Organ 3rd March 2015 at 10:14 pm

    It’s tough editing your own work, you try it and then hand it over to someone else and are then amazed at how much you miss / gloss over! I do hate cliches in writing and try my best to avoid them. I once read that cliches lack impact in your writing because they’re so familiar to the reader they don’t really register the phrase in their mind as they read. My problem is word repetition, to edit my work I wrote down the phrases I felt I used a lot and managed to delete nearly thirty ‘for a moment’ phrases from my manuscript! I think the software can be useful for identifying repetition too.

    • Nicola Young 4th March 2015 at 9:18 pm

      Oh I do that too and the programme picked up over used words as well as repetition at the beginning of sentences. This was good because when doing first person, you don’t want to start all the time with ‘I’.

  5. sophieblovett 4th March 2015 at 10:14 am

    I’m definitely in a cliche-culling phase with my draft too! It’s so annoying how many have found their way in there – especially because I’d thought I was consciously trying to avoid them too… The way I look at it, it’s all part of the process – in the first draft we’re mainly focusing on getting the story down so the tighter details of language are bound to slip through the net (ha! Cliche-central here too…). I’m sure we’ll get there in the end 🙂 xx

  6. Chrissie@muddledms 19th March 2015 at 10:09 pm

    Editing definitely comes under the NOT heading, since it’s the beautiful destruction and remodeling of something already there. How do you manage to write without all the cliches?

  7. Pingback: Writing and Editing – Making Progress | Nikki Young Writes

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