Still, when I get to the down-and-dirty revision stage of a book, I'm surprised all over again at how many overused words I, well, overuse.
I'm working my way though A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die. I searched first for words Donald Maass enjoined us to replace: "felt, gasp, fear, terror." I looked at each character, mostly farmer Cam Flaherty, and made sure that was what she was feeling, and then made sure I showed it in the cleanest, clearest way possible rather than describing the feeling in words. I eliminated a LOT of "felt"s. I didn't find many "terror" instances, and I think all the "gasp"s are gone now.
Then I looked for "stare" in its various noun and verb permutations. Oh, my. Lots of people were staring, sometimes many times within a scene. Revised that one,
Did you know you can eliminate dozens of occurrences of "that?" Yes, you can. The esteemed and insightful Ramona deFelice Long discussed this recently.
Tonight's exercise involves "just." I, and other speakers of English, legitimately use it as a minimizer: "It was probably just an object left long ago." As an intensifier: "The three of them had just made the noon deadline." As a time indicator: "She had just locked the back door." And so on.
I've found that I use "just" instead of searching for alternatives, for more precise or more colorful ways of saying what I or my characters say or do.
In the minimizer case, how about rewording or removing it? ""It was probably [only] an object left long ago."
In the intensifier case, how about rewording? "The three of them had barely made the noon deadline."
Same with the time indicator: "She had locked the back door not a minute earlier."
See? Those three examples occurred on one page of my manuscript. I have some hours of revision left on
I have more to search for, but these are a good start.
What's your favorite overused word when you revise? What are the kinds of unnecessary words you notice when you're reading? And if you feel like challenging me on this, I might just have to stare you down (after I gasp in terror...).