My latest ‘completed’ book hit a little over 126,000 words.
[I’ve put ‘completed’ in quotes because a book is never finished, it’s abandoned after you’ve done all you can to polish it. Looking at it again after even a small gap of time, you’ll always find the need to change things. This constant pressure to perfect the work will mean it will never see the light of day. Be bold. Do the necessary re-reads, self-edits and then let it go.]
Part of the self-edit process is to identify commonly repeated words; these may differ for every writer.
The words I’ve noticed I’m prone to over-using are listed below. They’re not exhaustive, naturally. The number of times the words appeared in a search of the text are shown (and in brackets the number they were reduced to after checking); I never blanket change, that can lead to nonsense words cropping up.
The reduction of repetitions can be processed in various ways: often, the word isn’t necessary at all; sometimes the dialogue is sufficient; if repetitions are close together on the page then I find a new word.
I've made additional comments at the end.
My repetition word list
Smiled – 55 (invariably overused) (15)
Nodded – 115 (again, overused, often close together on the page!) (44)
Laughed – 24 (this is good, I made a conscious effort while writing to avoid using this!) (14)
Grinned – 27 – (not bad, either, since it is very common usage) (11)
Sighed – 11 (again, I was on the look-out for this while writing so they are few) (7)
Looked – 48 (35)
Moment – 81 (45)
Glanced – 61 (30)
Few – 84 (53)
Down – 163 (103) (e.g. why use ‘sat down’ when ‘sat’ works as well?)
Up – 255 (horrendous! Search entails a space in front of and after this word) (163)
Out – 252 (same applies as above…) (176)
Back – 105 (ditto) (91)
Just – 70 (an insidious word, but often used in speech so many retained) (45)
Called – 52 (45)
Saw – 23 (21)
Walked – 41 (0)
Ran – 52 (35)
Pointed – 45 (0)
Suddenly – 15 (not bad, but probably too many) (3)
Seemed – 122 (86)
Felt – 77 (often the feelings can be conveyed without using ‘felt’) (49)
Thought – 60 (50)
Though – 101 (I've noticed in other books that sometimes this is used when the writer meant 'thought' and vice versa) (84)
Shrugged – 25 (again, while writing I tried to avoid using this, but it can still be reduced) (15)
Stepped – 60 (surprised at this, but this number was reduced) (36)
Turned – 103 (far too many!) (82)
Shook – 58 (not a big reduction, but I validated them all) (46)
Appeared – 27 (25)
Peered – 37 (32)
Some – 139 (another insidious word!) (77)
Abruptly – 29 (used instead of ‘suddenly’ sometimes) (17)
Eyed – 30 (instead of ‘looked at’ etc) (27)
Gazed – 3 (2)
In the scheme of things, very few of these repetitions are too bad when you consider the total number of words is in excess of 126,000. But the process serves to validate the text from a different perspective.
Naturally, there’s a need to be careful about substituting with a new word only to find that the ‘new’ word is a repetition you’ve already reduced!
This is only one strategy in the self-edit process. I normally do this after the final read-through. That read should concentrate on the narrative flow, the internal logic of the story, and detecting any inconsistencies.
Earlier read-throughs or self-edits will have considered point-of-view aspects, emotional content in a scene, character motivation and visualisation of a scene, to name a few.