A few weeks ago my daughter stood before me and formulated a lame excuse as to why she couldn't complete a task I had asked her to do. Homework or bathing or picking up her mess--I don't remember what the infraction was, but I do recall my response to her: "Really," I said. And it wasn't a question as much as a snarky, drawn-out quip.
My husband quietly said behind me, "You say that a lot."
I turned and faced him. "What?"
"You say, Really, a lot ... to the kids."
I didn't realize it then but, of course, from then on, I started noticing my response every time they had an excuse for not doing what I expected of them. I'd catch myself: "Reee..." and then stop and think of a better, less smart-alecky reply. Geesh! Good thing I have a husband to politely make note of my faults! Are you as lucky?
Thankfully, I have five other "husbands" who point out my writing crutches--the fallback words, phrases and punctuations that litter a perfectly good story to excess.
Another crutch I have is the word JUST. She just opened the door ... he just finished his dinner ... in just five minutes ... A simple 'find and replace' exercise helped fix that problem. Same goes for BACK. She went back inside ... he turned back around ... they went back for their dog ...
I've also spotted overused words by performing a Wordle which can show your most-used words bigger and bolder than the others. Great tool and an arty little reminder of excess.
Kim recently pointed out to Julie the presence of quite a few ellipses in her manuscript. In turn (and certainly not in spite), Julie found an overwhelming number of '-ing' words in Kim's.
We all have words we're fond of, phrasing we cling to, comfortable sayings that make our writing unique--or so we'd like to think. But when style or voice gives way to laziness, or when obtuse punctuation causes a reader to pause when she should be moving through the passage, it's time for some serious revisions.