My upstairs neighbor Alexandra, who is a big fan of my books, recently read one of my newest titles, Cassidy Lane. She told me she loved it, but she’d also lost track of how many times in the story Cassidy “walked home slowly.” I thanked her for her honesty because I hadn’t noticed my tendency to overuse that phrase.
Neither had the developmental editor.
Or the copyeditor.
Or the proofreader.
But my neighbor had, and it bothered her, and that’s what matters, right?
We all have our pet phrases in both the spoken and written word, and we will always have them. The key to growing as an author is to identify what they are, then either A) stop using them so much, or B) use the “find” feature in Microsoft Word to replace them with something else. My friend Alberto, who loves to read early drafts of my books, once pointed out how often my protagonist “bit her lip.” Now when I’m tempted to use that expression, I hold back. (Apparently I’ve moved on to “walked home slowly.”)
What do you do if you aren’t even aware of your pet phrases? This is where your friends and beta readers can help you. I know from personal experience that friends often want to help out, but they admittedly don’t have the skill set to provide the type of constructive feedback you need. Or they don’t want to hurt your feelings by being critical of your work. However, many of those same people would be delighted to read your manuscript with an eye for over usage of particular phrases.
My neighbor is the perfect example of this type of reader. Perhaps I will email her the draft of my next book, then walk home slowly to my apartment.
This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2015 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.