Writing Tip

My Worst Writing Bad Habits: Using Find/Replace to Scrub the First Draft

The first draft is finished. Great! Um… now what?

I am often asked about my “writing process” and the more I write the more procedural it becomes – it is the engineer in me.

Getting the first draft on paper/electrons is a monumental task. And if nanowrimo and write sprints have taught me anything, it’s that snails could crawl over the keyboard faster than I write. So when the words are flowing, the last thing I want to do is disrupt my train of thought by editing.  But when the words flow, my bad writing habits tend to sneak in. That’s OK, a first draft is just getting the story down so it can be molded.

But it needs molding.

So after completing a first draft, the next step in my personal writing process is a systematic scrub for my worst writing habits. I have a list of my issues and systematically go through the manuscript with “find and replace” to address them before diving into developmental edits and more complex issues.

In all of its glory, here is my list:

1. Minimize Filtering

These are words that unnecessarily filter the reader’s experience through the character’s point of view. they place the character between the author and the reader. Examples include:

  • To see
  • To hear
  • To think
  • I wondered
  • I read
  • I saw
  • I feared

For example, instead of saying “She felt fear as she heard another’s footsteps,” it is more compelling to write “Shivers ran up her spine with the unmistakable echo of approaching steps.”

I have a personal list of my most used filtering words and use find/replace to do perform manuscript surgery. However, no rule is absolute. Notice I said “minimize” and not “delete all.” Do what makes sense for your manuscript,  your voice, your story, and the particular use.

2. Check overuse of certain words

Every author has a list of safe words that they overuse or naturally rely on during writing. While drafting, I overuse the word “with” and for the sake of getting the story out, I often get lazy and my characters “smile” a lot. (Smile 🙂 )

By using the find feature, I can systematically go through each instant of my commonly overused words and determine if there is a more exciting alternative. This also provides variety to the voice.

Don’t know your over used words? Don’t fret! Try running your manuscript through a word cloud. Instructions here.

wordcloud ASAW

3. Check your common grammar errors

Despite a degree in journalism (and simply knowing better) I often confuse “it’s” and “its”. Needless to say, its it’s on my “must check” list and is easily fixed with find and replace.

4. Minimize the words “was”/”were” and passive voice

During editing I find I can often replace “was/were” with more interesting verbs and finding these two words is also quick way to start targeting passive voice.

Active voice is generally more interesting, but passive voice does have its uses. Here’s a fantastic article which describes when passive voice can be the right choice.

5. Minimize adverbs

It is generally agreed that adverbs weaken writing and most authors have heard Stephen King’s quote: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

One problem with adverbs is they are subjective and most often can be replaced by a more accurate phrase that provides an image of greater depth.

The good news: most adverbs can easily be spotted by searching for the word “very” and the characters “ly ” (note I recommend adding a space in the search after the ly).

Example: Instead of “She left quickly” consider “She sprinted” or “She sped like a criminal” or “She hurried.”

Of course, not all adverbs are bad and there are good use cases for them. Read more at this fantastic blog post about adverbs by Henneke.

The rest of my bad habits are not easily identified with find and replace but the above list provides a good start for editing.

What is on your personal bad habit list? Please share your editing tips in the comments!




1 thought on “My Worst Writing Bad Habits: Using Find/Replace to Scrub the First Draft”

  1. Reblogged this on Melanie V. Logan and commented:
    Some of the most overused words in my writing are was, have been, or trying to find a better way to say smile or grin. A thesaurus is helpful in some aspects. But it only replaces the word with another. What I like about the example given, is it prompts a mental picture for the reader and evokes feeling and a connection.


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