I think every writer has words or phrases that she writes too often. I know I do. My particular nemesis is the word “look.” In my rough drafts, my characters are always “looking” at the landscape or each other, “tossing someone a look,” “giving something a hard look,” “looking bad,” “looking like a fool,” etc., etc., looking etc.
After I finish a rough draft, I always have to go searching for this enemy word and do my best to annihilate it whenever I can. But I find it difficult to use substitutions without sounding stilted or losing the meaning I want. Do you have repeated words or phrases that haunt your writing?
Then there are the words or phrases that make me cringe when I hear someone say them. I guess it’s the editor in me. At least I’ve learned over the years not to constantly correct others, but sometimes it’s hard to keep my lips zipped. The common phrase that I cannot hear without wincing is “I could care less.”
I just want to scream, “That doesn’t make sense! We could always care less about anything. What you mean is that you couldn’t care less! Could not care less! That’s the insult you’re aiming for—use it!”
But of course, carrying on like that would probably get me banned from the few social gatherings I’m invited to in these times of lingering Covid restrictions. Another word, not quite so grating for me, is “irregardless.” It means the same thing as “regardless,” so why add the extra “ir”? But Webster insists it is actually a word. I have to remind myself that language does evolve and it sometimes evolves in nonsensical ways.
My mother hates it when I write that a character “trekked” somewhere. To her, a trek is only a major expedition in the Himalayas; it can’t be just a long arduous hike like my character Sam Westin often undertakes. Another one of my writer friends takes the word “pray” to always mean beseeching God when I often mean “fervently hope”; she marks that word and also the adverb “hopefully” every time she finds them in my drafts. So, I guess we all have our word challenges. What are yours?
And yes, in between rants, I am s-l-o-w-l-y crawling toward the finish line on Cascade, my sixth Sam Westin wilderness mystery, which involves avalanches and wolverines in the North Cascades. I’ll dig out of the snow filling my brain and finish one of these days. I promise.