Monday, December 5, 2011

How Waxing Your Eyebrows Is Like Editing

Waxing doesn't feel good. Neither does editing. But don't you feel improved when they're both done?

I'm blessed with a head of dark Irish hair, which is great until my eyebrows start trying to mate with my hairline. Eyebrows are kind of like those support words we use in our writing - a less kind phrase would be "crutch words." Those words don't seem so bad at a glance. They're like that one little hair that escaped you and is hovering off by itself to the left of where you actually wanted your eyebrow to end.

But then the little follicles spot that solitary solider, and they send out a rescue party. Pretty soon you've got scouts going out to check the terrain. They report that it's okay, so the recovery team goes out and you know what? It's actually pretty comfortable out there. So they stay. And then the commanding officers think they might as well fill out the ranks and pretty soon the entire army has reappeared, marching right out across your face like the wax never happened.

Letting your brain get comfortable with using the crutch words is a dangerous business that leads to a manuscript in desperate need of a slashing. Or a waxing, as I've taken to thinking of it.

I'm very aware of what my crutch words are - just, then, that. Those are four-letter words to me in more ways than one. So how do you identify your own crutches? There's a great free tool to help you out.

Wordle can be incredibly useful in your editing process. It creates a word cloud based on the text that you paste in. Here's what Wordle made for me, based on the first 20 pages of NOT A DROP TO DRINK:

I'm pretty happy with that. Not only are my main characters prominent, but if you look at the larger (more occurring) words you can get an idea of what the book is about, even if you haven't read my query. Even better, I don't see my crutch words in there. That means I did a good job of rooting them out. 

Give Wordle a shake and see if it can help you identify your crutch words, then pour the self-editing wax on and rip 'em out by their roots.


Sandi said...

Oh, why haven't I thought of that? Great tip! Thanks!

Anita Grace Howard said...

What an awesome writing tip!! Thanks, Mindy, my wise Irish wordsmith. :)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Sandi - you are quite welcome! Another writer (can't remember how) introduced me to Wordle, and it can be both a great tool and a hoot for when you're totally bored and want to see how often you used the word "misogynist" in your college papers :)

Anita - YES! And now I know what I'm getting tattooed on my forearm!! :)

Kelly Polark said...

I used wordle too to see what words I used too much. I had to change LOOKED in my manuscript! Used way too much!

And I have a weird thing for eyebrows and I love to pluck mine. Crazy, isn't it? I am attracted to a man with nice, dark eyebrows. I love my hubby's. I'm nuts. :)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Kelly - so glad Wordle could help you out! And YES "looked" was a big problem for me in my first ms... damn dialogue tags.

Carol Riggs said...

I love Wordle! It's a great way to find out if you've overused words you oughtn't have (such as..."just" and "like," in my own novel). Your novel looks intriguing, based on your Wordle!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Thanks Carol - I'm glad other people have found use in it. Another follower told me that they posted their entire ms into Wordle, and it worked just fine. Apparently there's no character limit :)