Editing Your Draft – Crutch Words


I am currently hard at work editing my 90K+ collection of short stories that will be published soon. As I go through this work and apply some of the things that I’ve learned editing other authors’ works, I found that I have some crutch words.

In public speaking, crutch words are things like ‘um’ or using the word ‘so’ to start sentences when there is a pause needed to collect your thoughts.

It’s a bit different in writing. In writing, crutch words can pop out at you during the editing process. This is partly true because enhancements to Microsoft Word’s grammar check actually point them out with nasty brown underlines (appropriate color).

The important thing to remember is, if you overuse a particular word or phrase, your reader will notice it and will start to get annoyed by the frequent repetition.

My Crutch Words

My worst crutch words that I see repeated over and over are ‘had’ and ‘that’. Here is an example of an unedited sentence from one of my short stories:

When he transferred BERTA and digital Rachel to the isolated server, he had left himself a back door to retrieve the system if necessary.

As you can see, the word had is in bold in this sentence. After editing it reads:

When he transferred BERTA and digital Rachel to the isolated server, he left himself a back door to retrieve the system if necessary.

Removing had makes no difference in the meaning of the sentence. The crutch word is gone and the sentence is still standing.

Here is an example with an unnecessary that.

“Yes, we do,” the simulation answered in a Rachel-like voice that was tempered with more anger than Ben had ever heard in the real Rachel’s tone.

In this example both that and was are unnecessary and can be removed.

“Yes, we do,” the simulation answered in a Rachel-like voice tempered with more anger than Ben had ever heard in the real Rachel’s tone.

Once again, no difference in the meaning and the sentence is cleaner.

Now that I’ve bared my soul and exposed one of my writing flaws, what about you? Do you use crutch words? If so, which ones?

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33 thoughts on “Editing Your Draft – Crutch Words

  1. I think we all have those over-used words, Don. I know I do. I think it helps (this is what I tell my students, too) to read a passage aloud, and see how it sounds. Then it’s easier to spot ‘those words.’

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Crutch words? Who me? The first thing I do when I am finished writing a piece is to run “Find and Replace” to eliminate the dreaded “that”. I don’t worry about them as I write because it disrupts my flow and I know I have an easy fix. There might be another “Find and Replace” word, but I can’t reveal all of my secrets. Great post, Don.

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  3. Pingback: Editing Your Draft – Crutch Words | Thoughts by Mello-Elo

  4. I did realize how bad I was until I pulled my novel from amazon to do some additional editing. I looked for crutch worlds and the pathetic words that end with ‘ly’, and so on. When I finished the novel was 40 pages and 10000 words lighter. IT’s a much better read now.

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  5. Another combination to watch for is ‘to be’. And mannerisms can get repetitive – how many times can a character twitch an eyebrow or glance sideways, or at something, before it becomes annoying?

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  6. Yes I use both of those, and ‘So….’ I do use ‘do’ in the same way, which is often a way of stressing something when I write it, but doesn’t read that way later. I have to check on the number of looks people give each other, and other times they are looking at things. Look, they’ll say…. It’s frightening, really.

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  7. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  8. Thanks for reading, Don. I took heed of the same words some time ago, as I always wrote ‘that’ and ‘very’ too much. It’s those little, unnecessary, words that stick in the throat once you’re aware of them! x

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