Clenched Fists in My Knotted Stomach

Lest you think that veteran (i.e., experienced, tempered, refined—don’t say old!) writers are immune to beginning writer mistakes, all I can say is, think again. It’s confession time here in the Star Rigger foundries, where we labor 24/7 converting raw words into story for our ravenous audience. I’m going to share some revealing facts.

My editor, in the course of a long email full of editorial suggestions, helpfully provided me with a list of words and phrases I used too often. Now, all writers have verbal tics—that is to say words and expressions that they use habitually, without even noticing. Turns out, I have my fair share. And with my editor’s list in hand, I used the Find functions in Scrivener and Word to, er, find them and see if I could root some out. Turns out I could—by deleting, by using other words, by recrafting sentences (usually making them stronger in the process). Here’s part of the list, followed by the number of times I used the expression initially (in the 268,000-word book), and then the number after I’d gone through and cleaned things up:

  • indeed 50 / 14
  • very 323 / 96
  • draw(n, ing) 68 / 28
  • drew 89 / 29
  • further 76 / 27
  • farther 31 / 43 (some furthers got corrected to farthers)
  • clench(ed) 27 / 7
  • knot(ted) 25 / 9
  • . And 546 / 209

Did I really use “very” that many times?? Turns out I did. Usually in phrases like “very much want to…” And the last one, in case it’s not clear, is sentences starting with “And”—not unlike this one. Sometimes that’s a very—um, an effective usage. Other times, it’s just lazy habit. I still haven’t gone through and looked for excessive em-dashes—or ellipses… but I will.

I spent literally days of the most tedious editing imaginable doing this. But it was necessary, and you will all be happier for it when you read the story, though if I did my job right, you will never notice.

Most of this happened when I was in Florida helping my brother. I was intending on my flight home to sprinkle all the deleted very’s and And’s and clenched fists out the window as bread crumbs for the birds and the fish below; but alas, I did not get a window seat. I’ll sell them to you for cheap.

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8 Responses

  1. Kevin Bentch, Ph.D.
    | Reply

    What a great post! Thanks for sharing such an honest look at the editing process. Yay! Looking forward to reading your next work – hoping for the Reefs of Time! Have a great day!

  2. Richard Bowker
    | Reply

    Here is the book I mentioned that looks at how word usage can uniquely identify an author:

    https://www.amazon.com/Nabokovs-Favorite-Word-Mauve-Bestsellers/dp/1501105388

    You can try to cover up your fingerprints by removing a bunch of “ands” and “verys” but we will still know who you are.

    • Jeffrey A. Carver
      | Reply

      Hm. But if I show up in the next revision of that book, does that mean I’ve finally arrived?

  3. Kori K Weiser
    | Reply

    Has the phrase “sucked out” (into space) been used? Few editors these days know that the proper term of being forced into space is preceded by the term “blown out.”

    Without going into all the mechanics of space, the description is as follows:

    Vacuums may “suck” on Earth, but the vacuum of space does not. In the vacuum of space, one is in a metal (of some sort) container with a pressurized interior. When it leaks, it leaks “out;” when one is forcibly ejected, one too goes out forcibly. Thereby one is “blown out,” not sucked out” into space.

    Thank you so much for your consideration. If you use this phrase correctly, forgive my imposition!

    Kori W
    Seattle, WA

    • Jeffrey A. Carver
      | Reply

      No, nobody gets sucked into space in this book, or even “spaced.” Partly that’s because, really, nobody gets spaced in the book (wait–is that a spoiler?), but also because of the reasons you cite. Thank you for elaborating on this misuse–which annoys me, as well. But what *really* annoys me is the movie cliche of compartments venting into space like a hurricane–and venting, and venting, and venting. I don’t know if it’s ever been put to the test, but I doubt if a blown compartment would vent for much longer than a really big PUFF!

  4. Semora
    | Reply

    Interesting to get an insight into the behind the scenes. The only times I’ve ever really noticed authors reusing words too much is when they repeat whole phrases (usually they’re weird phrases too, and really stand out to me). So I probably wouldn’t have noticed your repetitions, but appreciate your efforts to edit them out.

  5. Nick Pert
    | Reply

    One of my favourite authors has a habit of using “Worthy” as a noun at least once in every book he writes. Whenever I get to that word in the book it makes me chuckle as it must be a deliberate “Tick/Easter egg” as I’ve yet to hear anyone use it in real life.

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