Deleting Your Cheating Words: Time to Up Your Game

Looking to up-level the quality of your written work? Kris Spisak shows writers one big step they can take to do so.
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There are more publication options at this moment than ever before in history. How amazing is that? Yet, here is also your hurdle as a writer. A lot of authors are putting their work out into the world, so how do you ensure yours stands out from the crowd?

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Sometimes, it’s as simple as upping your game and discovering when your writing is perhaps fine but not serving your story as powerfully as it could.

There are many cliché scenes and devices a writer should watch out for, and there are many overused words we might not notice we’re repeating. However, there are three words that I like to call “cheat words,” because if you’re using them commonly, you’re not flexing your writing muscles as mightily as you could.

And when mighty writing muscles are needed to push your project ahead in a competitive playing field, it’s time to do some strength training.

What are three “cheating words” worth deleting in your manuscript?

  1. Realize
  2. Felt
  3. Suddenly

This editing conversation isn’t as simple as recommending against these three words, nor are they the end of a definitive list. However, these three are worth a second consideration every single time.

That classic writing advice of “show don’t tell” can be captured in this idea of deleting these cheating words:

  • Don’t tell your reader what your protagonist is “realizing.” Instead, allow your reader to have their own epiphany alongside your character, spurred by the breadcrumbs you have laid out for them—or at least allow them to be present in the moment your hero puts together the pieces for themselves.
  • Don’t tell your reader what your characters are “feeling” in any given moment. Evoke those feelings so clearly on the page that your reader unquestionably recognizes their love, their fear, their joy, their stress, or the heat of the moment.
  • Don’t tell your reader a scene is fast-paced by sprinkling the word “suddenly” throughout. Tighten your sentences. Empower your verbs. Show the action and create momentum with the power of your writing.

There’s a difference between positioning your reader as a distanced audience member to the story versus pulling them inside the world you’ve created. It’s all about strength training. It’s all about hard work of craft getting you there rather than cheating in the game.

Deleting Your Cheating Words: Time to Up Your Game

The trick to deleting your cheating words is in the “Find” function of your favorite word processer. Search for “realiz,” “feel,” “felt,” and “suddenly” and consider each one for the chopping block, reimagining how that realization, feeling, and pacing could be truly captured on the page. (And if you’re realizing that I just misspelled “realize,” great job for paying attention! However, I encourage you to search for “realiz” because this truncated form will catch every usage of “realized,” “realizing,” and others.)

Powerhouse revision and forceful editing happen when paying attention to the details. Sometimes you need some training to earn those mighty writing muscles, but as Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Every writer remains in training.

So, flex. Stretch. Prep. No protein powder is needed, but infusing your work with vitality and removing your cheating shortcuts can be transformative for your manuscript’s body (and soul).

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