When we think of revision, we think of pulling out our red pen and scribbling over the pages like sword-slashing maniacs. We seek out unnecessary words, adverbs, passive voice, and sensory add-ons, and THEY WILL BE DELETED.
But how do we find all those extra words? When we’re tightening up the language of our manuscripts, we don’t often have a literal red pen. We have backspace, Ctrl-X (so you can cut/copy deleted sections into an outtakes file because NEVER ACTUALLY DELETE STUFF; archive the crap out of it), and we have track changes (MS word does at least).
Thankfully, programs such as MS Word have Find Function. That allows us to Ctrl+find the words we want to seek out and EXTERMINATE.
So when you have your handy dandy list of words you know you use too often, you can find them.
But if you’re familiar with those tools, you know that once you go into the document to edit it, you have to renew the Ctrl+Find function. Sigh. Repetition. It wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t use words like very, that, quite, and then, But, and look about three thousand times throughout the entire manuscript. Double sigh.
It’s either use the find function or try to notice those words while you go through and edit for other things like spellling.
The non-technology version is to write your trouble words on sticky notes and stick them to your computer monitor/laptop.
The technology version is WAY more helpful. Once you have your list of troubling words, perform the following twelve steps:
Step 1: Have your list of troubling words. (here’s that link again: words to avoid using)
- and then
- ly (this will find all adverbs and also words like lyre and folly, so there’s a margin for error)
- said, (this will find all the times you add on an action or modifying clause after “…,” he said, holding her hand, which you can then replace with “...” He held her hand.)
- a lot
That’s my list, anyway. Feel free to steal it (and if you add to it, let me know in the comments, because I’m always excited to kill new words).
Step 2: Hit Ctrl+F. This brings up the “Navigation” sidebar (in MS word).
Step Three: Go to “Replace” instead of “Find.”
Step Four: Click on “More.”
Step 5&6: Go to “Format” (Step 5), then go to “Font” (Step 6).
Step 7&8: Change the font color to red, or highlight it, or underline it. Do something you’d visually notice. Then click “OK” (Step 8).
Step 9&10: Put the same word in both the “find” and “replace” spot (Step 9). Click “Replace All” (Step 10).
Step 11: Scroll a bit to make sure it worked properly.
Is the word you’re looking for the proper color? Did they all change color? Is it noticeable to you?
Step 12: Repeat these steps for each word on your troubling words list. You can use different colors for different words, or you can add highlighting (especially to smaller words or things with punctuation).
This makes it EASY to visually see the problem words while revising and editing.
Now, I wrote that (awful) paragraph with the intention of using the words on my list of no-go words. I used multiple colors and styles (bold/italic) because it makes it easier to see which word you use most.
When you go through and edit your story/manuscript/essay/etc., the words will jump out at you, and it’ll be hard to miss them.
Then your revision will focus on a diction-level change.
An awful paragraph like the one I showed you can become something less awful:
I got a bit carried away with the revision on that silly little paragraph. I went beyond word replacement and moved more toward getting rid of “telling” phrases in favor of actions that show what’s going on. As you can see, most line editing and close revision will help you reduce word count and tighten up the narrative into scenes that punch it instead of narrating it. The word count of the original colorful section is 137, and the word count of the revised section is 96. That’s a 30% reduction! Just imagine your piece of writing 30% shorter! Maybe that thought terrifies you, or maybe it’s something you’re desperately seeking.
That’s what a lot of revision is about once you pass stage of fixing plot holes, conflicts, characters, continuity, and confusions. It’s about tightening up the language, getting rid of every single extra word, and making your work as efficient, lean, and strong as possible.