When editing your work you’ll find words that crop up over and over, but add no value to the prose. These are crutch words and removing them will strengthen your prose.
When speaking, crutch words give us time to think. They’re used as filler or emphasis.
Filler words in speech
In writing we tend to use the same words and phrases repeatedly. They slow down or dilute what we’re trying to say. When writing dialogue, a few of these words give a natural feel. They should still be used sparingly, because written dialogue is natural speech, but polished.
You can use the ‘find’ function in a word processor, or use a printout and red pen, editor-style. Sometimes the word can be removed. Other times the sentence will need re-writing.
Like all editing rules, this is a guideline. You don’t need to remove every one of the words on the list. You’re looking at each instance critically and making a conscious decision to keep, change or cut. Some are adverbs, which as we know must be used with care.
• A bit
• As though
• Started to
• Began to
Don’t forget two little words that can often be cut without losing the meaning of the sentence.
You will find that taking out a proportion of the crutch words/phrases allows your writing to speak more directly. And that is the aim of every writer.
On being asked how he created his magnificent sculpture of David, Michelangelo is reputed to have said, “Simple. I cut away everything that wasn’t David.”
We live in an age of abundance. We expect a wide range of choices in all areas of our lives, whether choosing a tomato or a house or a college course. But who has not stood in front of a supermarket shelf, tired and hungry, overwhelmed by the range of choices presented?
The ability to choose is finite, no matter the size of the choice. Following the example of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, we can cut down the number to make each day by wearing the same clothes, for example. This leaves more brainpower to spend on the hustle that is your real focus.
More is not always better
Researchers have shown that too many choices can lead to less satisfaction. They divided people into maximizers – who need to investigate all possible choices, or as many as possible
and satisficers – who make a choice that best fits their needs, then stop looking.
These two styles are incompatible when shopping. The maximizer always wants to try one more store because the perfect item is out there. The satisficer has a definite idea in mind, but will buy an item that comes close to their ideal. Perhaps you can recall a shopping trip where you are one type and your companion is the other. It can be a miserable experience.
Maximizers also tend to rely on external sources of validation. Their car meets their needs but it must also be validated by a car comparison website. In an age of internet searches and five star ratings, it has never been easier to search endlessly for the perfect deal.
Come off the fence
Finding a suitable photo for a blog post is vital. The choice on sites such as Pixabay and Unsplash is truly mind-boggling. But time is short.
The trick is to set parameters for your search, especially if you tend to be a maximizer.
search key words such as couple or beach
consider narrowing the colour choices
decide on a number of pages to search; these do not have to be sequential
go with your gut feeling; the right image may be on page one
have a time limit
The filters above applied to Pixabay results in 379 images spread over four pages. Searching more sites simply takes time that is better spent writing.
Not set in stone
Learning to choose effectively is a key time management skill. For writers that might be a name, a picture, or a title. In fact most of these choices are not final, yet they can derail a writing session. Pick something and move on. Don’t let maximizing hide your procrastination. Remember done is better than perfect.
Then Courtney Corboy reached out to ask, how did I choose what to write about? That sparked this post.
In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. D. Eisenhower
You must have a plan
As the picture shows, the plan did not survive intact, but I won the battle. That’s the only thing that matters.What to write depends on what kind of writer you are, and what you hope to achieve. When I did the same challenge last year, I had less time and energy. Simply finishing was the aim. This year I wanted to test out different content, and see how publishing in publications changed the results. I was confident I could finish, because I’d done it before.
Bullet journals and spreadsheets are great, but they don’t work for me. And that’s okay. Messy can work too.
You may have a theme that informs your posts, for example self development or parenting or living with an illness. You can find a niche within these umbrellas; single parenting, self development for retirees, or life with anxiety. Even so, you might run out of steam. The trick here is to write what interests you, seen through the lens of your theme. How does a single parent navigate dating? What does the latest political event mean for a person with anxiety?
Seen through your eyes
Everything has been said, over and over. There is no such thing as originality. But it hasn’t been said by you, with your unique experience and perspective.Especially when first blogging, there’s a lot to be said for using other writing as your springboard.
You can only find your voice by using it, and imitation is a great start. Even Picasso began by copying the great masters such as Rafael. The more you write, the better your skills. Let your personality come through. By sharing we create connection. What we are comfortable to share will vary by subject and individual. Readers want and appreciate honesty.
Catch your ideas before they escape
Whenever you have a question or an idea, capture it. You won’t remember it in five minutes or a day’s time. Notebooks are great, and lots of writers love their physical notebook and pen. The notes function on your phone is practical, and more importantly, usually at hand. Even if it’s just a title, grab it. One day when you’re out of ideas, you can look at notes and a few words can spark a whole piece.
But — what do you actually write about?
Ah yes, the original question. Anything at all. I please myself. I don’t have a huge following to service, and I want to gather people who like what I write. I write fiction and poetry, and I write about writing, and about life in general, sometimes as it pertains to writing.
But what I write is not just about me once I hit publish. So it must fill a need for someone else; inform, entertain, or problem solve. (Fiction can do all three, but that’s a post for another time.)
See what’s trending on Medium or Quora, and write your own take on it.
Look at the blogs of writers you admire, and see how they address their niche. Notice how their personalities come through, how much personal stuff they share. Think about where you’d like to be on the open — closed spectrum.
Keep your eyes open when you’re away from the screen. Turn the irritation of sitting in traffic into your thoughts on public transport, or electric cars, or how hard it is to meditate in real life.
Challenge yourself to come up with ideas every day. It gets easier with practice, like every skill.
It does not have to be big. Haikus are just seventeen syllables long, and usually fewer words. In this case the image I choose is very important, and must convey more than the words while complementing them.
My non fiction pieces are often short, from three hundred to a thousand words. I edit ruthlessly. That’s another skill I’ve improved upon.
You can re-use old content. Rewrite if needed, update facts, and you’re good to go. And edit!
Gather your ideas together, at least 5–10 to prime the pump.
Decide if you will have themes for days or weeks. I found this helpful, in my case poetry on weekends and short stories etc. on weekdays.
Write out the days and dates in a list or chart, digital or analogue, whatever suits. If a month is too much, try two weeks.
Pencil in the pieces you already have, scattered through the time period.
Consider what you need to write to fill the gaps.
Write something every day. Start drafts even if you can’t immediately finish. As little as 150 words daily adds up, and that has worked for me.
Spend a few minutes thinking up new ideas. Write everything down without censoring.
Try to be at least a couple of days ahead. This might mean writing more when you have more time. A buffer is a wondrous thing.
But if you miss a day, don’t sweat it. It’s not life or death. Begin again the next day, catch up if you can.
Write it, edit, let it go. Done is better than perfect.
Concentrate on your goal and don’t worry (too much) about claps. You can only control what you do, not how it is received.
When someone takes the time to comment, respond. This is what we all want; for our words to reach someone. Start a conversation and reciprocate. Give what you hope to get.
Creativity is a remix. Ideas come from living, reading, and often from connecting with others, just like this piece. You just have to notice them.
Write as though no-one will read it. In the beginning, that’s true for all of us. By the time they’re listening, you’ll have honed your craft and your voice. You’ll have something to say.
You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. Maya Angelou
I posted every day, using a mixture of some old posts remastered, new posts, and serialised fiction. The remastered posts were interesting to revisit. They showed that my blogging has improved: tighter writing, using pull quotes and bold text so readers can skim quickly. I can edit faster than two years ago.
I saw that some content is evergreen. Even two years later it is still relevant, as long as it is updated where needed.
The Ninja Writers daily post group on Facebook had a new lease of life, with new members and more prepared to post links. This had dwindled to nothing. Occasionally I would be the only person to post in the thread, which was not encouraging. I read more, being sure to check out writers new to me in the thread, clapping and commenting. We all love acknowledgment; I made it a point to give more. And my own FB group were wonderful cheerleaders.
This is how my stats looked for April 2018. I posted four times (one each Friday) and had 263 followers. Views varied between 2 and 122 per day.
And this is how they looked for May 2018. I posted 31 times and had 310 followers, a net gain of 47 (gained 51 and lost 4.) Views varied between 23 and 110 per day.
Number of posts +775%
I increased visibility, partly from having more content published by publications such as The Creative Cafe, PS I love you, and The Writing Cooperative. All have large readerships.
I increased interaction by replying to or clapping on all my comments. This has led to conversations with like minded writers, and we check out each other’s work. It builds a fanbase.
I increased followers by 51, 165% of my target. And lost four along the way. But I didn’t win big with anything.
I met my goals, but
It was arduous, even with a plan and reusing old content.
The almost eight-fold work increase was not matched by the other metrics.
Short fiction was hardly read even when serialised, which was discouraging as I think this is my best work.
Having posted 10 new and 1 old poem, I can also call myself a poet, maybe.
I can’t keep up my quality and post daily.
I managed to let a piece go that I didn’t think was great, which was new and terrifying. On the other hand I’ve posted good pieces with less engagement.
I’m much better at seeing ideas for blog posts in everyday life.
The sweet spot probably lies around 2-4 posts weekly for me. I’ll try that from June onwards and hope to build on the momentum I’ve picked up. I’m still gaining followers, a few at a time.
When people post about this experiment, the numbers are always fabulously large. I guess for most of us the reality is more modest. We keep slogging away, and maybe the next post is the one that goes viral.