Let’s jump into our common writing mistakes series, squiders! We’re tackling grammatical and just plain bad writing mistakes first before we get into more complicated topics. And today, we’re going to look at filler and crutch words.
So we’re all on the same page, a filler word is a word that’s added into a sentence that isn’t actually adding anything to its meaning. People do this while talking as well as while writing, but these words are insidious because in most cases people don’t realize they’re doing it. A crutch word is very similar to a filler, in that it’s a word you fall back on because it’s familiar and easy.
Here are some common filler/crutch words:
You may have a filler or crutch word you use more than others. Mine is “honestly.”
NOTE: A crutch word can be a word that is being useful, such as a verb like “smiled,” but it becomes a crutch word because it’s being overused.
Be aware that phrases can also be crutches. If you find you’re reusing the same phrase a bunch (“each and every,” “it might be hours, days, weeks,” etc.) you might be using it as a crutch as well.
There’s a couple of ways to check and see what your filler and crutch words are, such as picking a few pages of your manuscript and reading through them, circling suspicious words. Or, if you don’t trust yourself to catch them, you can ask a friend to read through, or use a feature such as Word’s AutoSummarize tool. (NOTE: Word’s AutoSummary tool has been removed from newer versions of Word.)
By knowing what your filler and crutch words tend to be, you can keep an eye out for them while writing or, if you find that’s not helping your flow, look for them specifically when revising and editing.
While fillers and crutches are related, fixing them works slightly different.
Remember that a filler word is a word that is not adding any meaning to a sentence. These are easier to catch in a revision phase than a writing one. When you’re revising and you come across a filler-type word (like just, very, really, etc.), look and see if the word is pulling any weight. In some cases, such as dialogue, these words can occasionally be left alone, because people do use fillers when they’re talking. Also look at adjectives and adverbs, which can be fillers as well. Is there a stronger word that can be used? (“hurried” instead of “walked quickly,” for example)
A crutch word is a word that you overuse. If you know what yours are going into writing, sometimes you can cure yourself of the habit just by being aware of it. You might create a new crutch word or words, however, so it’s good to check during revision. Whereas filler words can usually just be cut, crutch words are often providing some worth to the sentence, so you may need to do some rewriting.
WARNING: Don’t just go through with a thesaurus when switching out crutch words! While words may have a similar meaning, or, in some cases, you might find a better word than your original one, often times the words in the thesaurus won’t match your concept exactly. Rewriting to keep your concept clear is a better idea than just switching out a word when possible. A look is different than a gaze, etc.
What are your go-to filler and crutch words, squiders? Any more thoughts on how to catch what yours are and fix them?