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  • Writer's pictureallieyohn

Crutch words and writing styles

I recently did a podcast interview and told basically everyone I've ever met about said interview.

The day it aired, I was afraid to listen to myself speak for a few hours. What if I sounded too high-pitched, or said something stupid I didn't remember saying, or worst of all- what if I sounded dumb in general?

I realize these thoughts were all my anxiety speaking. When I did finally listen I thought I sounded "fine."

Do I wish my high soprano voice were a nice, solid alto?

Yes. My normal speaking voice is high enough that, if I didn't concentrate and purposefully pitch it lower, it set off a "whistle to find your keys" style keychain every time I spoke.

(The few people I asked about my tone all told me it was "fine" and "not too high pitched or whiny." Now do I believe them? The jury is still out.)

The most interesting thing to hear though was my use of the crutch words "and" and "so." While there were a couple of "um"s thrown in for good measure, I found myself surprised by the number of times I started a sentence with "and," typically followed by "so."

Why did I use those words constantly throughout the podcast interview? I don't speak that way in real life, do I?

I realized as I listened to myself speak that I've developed a fairly legato style of speaking. Each sentence is smoothly interconnected to the previous one by the use of the word "and."

When I look through my NaNoWriMo novel in progress, I can see where the tendency carries through to my writing. Thus far I've removed at least 47 sentence starting "and"s and counting.

We all have crutch words we use when we can't think of another way to structure a sentence. For instance, my overreliance on "that" and the general overreliance of the word "just" by many authors in their first draft. From a recent writing event, the advice was to do a ctrl+F to find all uses of the word "just" and replace the word with anything else.

While I can't exactly do a ctrl+f for the word "and" (far too many results to weed through), I can do something Jonathan Maberry once said he did when he finished the first draft of Ghost Road Blues. He held a party and handed out copies of the manuscript and let people read the book out loud. Many changes happened to the manuscript after the party, but those changes came about partially from hearing how the book sounded out loud.

Do i need to host a party to hear my manuscript read out loud? Do you?

No. I could record myself saying it out loud (a recipe for disaster if you hate the sound of your own voice as much as many of us do). Or I can use the accessibility features built into my computer to have a robotic voice read my own words back to me. If I'm feeling really malevolent, I can ask my long-suffering wife to read the book out loud to me so I can better hear those crutch words.

Every writer, every person, has words they overuse. The trick isn't to avoid ever having crutch words (impossible), the trick is learning how to find them in edits and fix them. Also, maybe learning how to use less of them if you're giving a podcast interview. (There's always next time!)

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