“JUST” is just a crutch


stephen-buehler-headshot-2-red-backgroundI’ve completed my last draft of DETECTIVE RULES. It’s now being read by a beta reader. After that I’ll make changes, get it proofread then it’s off to the publisher who has shown interest. This blog isn’t about what I’ll do in the interim, but what I did during that last draft.man on crutches

I search for my crutch words. Words that I constantly use without thinking. Words that make my writing mundane, ordinary and repetitive. The words that can be eliminated. Using them that many times is just ridiculous. When I read the manuscript to myself, even out loud, I don’t hear it. My mind skims over those words.

After some contemplation I’ve discovered one reason I use words like, just, very, little, probably, seem, like, almost, – it’s that I use them as modifiers.  I’m subconsciously afraid to commit to a statement. For example, “I’m a little bit mad.” In that sentence I used, “little” and “bit” as modifiers as if I won’t let the character be truly mad. I’m sure it has something to do with my real life. I don’t like to admit to someone that I’m mad for fear it will make the other person not like me or the situation uncomfortable.    words image

“Was” and “were” are two other words I look for. Of course we all know “was” is a passive verb and not demonstrative. (I so wanted to use “very” in that last sentence.) I try to replace the “to be” verbs with active verbs that give each sentence more punch.

The cool thing about finding and replacing crutch words is that 80% of the time, the replacing or eliminating of such words makes the sentence better. The other 20% of the time, the sentence is about the same, except that now you’ve eliminated a tedious word.

In DETECTIVE RULES I had new crutch words to search and destroy; guilt, (he did feel guilty about what happened to his clients,) breeze, (for some reason I thought the description of the environment was improved if there was a breeze happening), down (as in down town, down the hall, run down, feeling down,). Those words seemed important to this particular story and they were, but not nearly as much as I did use them.

scratched out words

Will I try not to use my crutch words on the next manuscript? I’ll try a little bit. But for me, it’s better to put down on paper all that flows out and do the eliminating at a later time. That’s just the way I am.

Do you have any crutch words? If yes, when do you eliminate them?

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Stephen Buehler’s short fiction has been published in numerous on-line publications including, Akashic Books. Not My Day appeared in the Last Exit to Murder anthology and A Job’s a Job in Believe Me or Not An Unreliable Anthology.  He is expanding his novella, The Mindreading Murders about a magician into a novel and shopping around his mystery/comedy P.I. novel, Detective Rules. On top of all that he is a script consultant, magician and dog owner.  http://www.stephenbuehler.com



32 thoughts on ““JUST” is just a crutch

    1. Jena,
      I guess it’s okay to use them as long as you take them out in the end. But I do feel guilty that if I’m using “just” etc so much, I’m using my voice and not necessarily the voice of the piece. But you can do what you can do. (Cliche – which is another topic!)
      Thank you for reading.
      – Stephen

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Good points.
    By the way I reside at Crutch-on-the-Cliché in deepest UK; I will try to take note of your wise words.
    Mind you it’s a tad difficult to adhere to these sound precepts when successful authors use crutches, clichés, and repetition with cheery abandon. (Oh well)


  2. I know just what you mean. My characters just love to say “just.” I usually just let them say just whatever they want,but then I have to just edit, edit, edit to get that word out of the dialogue. And, yes, it’s just about that bad. Recently I’ve become aware that I use “probably” a lot (“a lot” is another one) in personal writing. My blog posts are peppered with it. I guess (there’s another) I don’t want to commit myself or come across as an authority. Maybe. On the positive side, I just love to edit and tighten what I’ve written, so I don’t mind going back and deleting the modifiers. Except for the weasel words that allow me to be wishy-washy. Characters can be opinionated, but I feel safer being wishy-washy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mar,
      I try not to edit myself too much when writing the first draft. I’d like to become more aware of my “just’ and “probably” words but I know that I’ll catch them in later drafts. It’s amazing to me to see how more powerful the sentence is without the crutch words.
      – Thanks for reading
      – Stephen


  3. Great post Stephen. I have to go through my manuscript many times to pull out offending “crutch words” but I do leave them in at times, when they need to be. My worst are ‘just’, ‘seem’, and ‘only’. I’m lucky to have proofreaders!


  4. Oh my, yes I do use crutch words. I believe it stems from all those years as a counselor. I didn’t want to go to court to testify about the juveniles I was working with in lock up. Plus, everything I would say would be considered subjective, and applicable only to the current situation. Amazing how things carry over. Good and useful post Stephen. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I try to remove “just” and other words that bog down writing. However, one of my short stories is titled “Just My Luck,” and I’m afraid that if I take out the word “just,” the title won’t be as effective. That just goes to show that sometimes, you need such words.


  6. Good post. I use many words that make my manuscript weak and I find them best by using “Autocrit” which is an editing tool you buy. An author who critiqued my manuscript at a conference recommended it to me. My, what a surprise that first editing gave me! I find it feels less personal to have a computer program point out my weaknesses than real people, but plan to use both methods, and sometimes I have to disagree a bit with either. Encouraging to hear so many have that issue.


  7. Stephen- nailing those ‘crutch’ words is important. I wanted to use ‘really’ but evaded it. 🙂 I do try hard to eliminate repetition which is often peppered by those crutch words. The fact of the matter is that the author has to spend a lot of time to complete the process of removals but I do think it makes for a better written manuscript.


  8. I slip into passive voice easily and when re-reading, I find it difficult at times to re-word, especially when on deadline. Great post, Stephen! Thanks for this important reminder about crutch words and passive voice.


    1. Gayle,
      Thank you for reading the blog. I think as much as we know about writing we also need reminders of some of the basics. I get too caught up in plot and story and sometimes don’t see the small stuff, like word usage.
      – Stephen


  9. I actually have entire crutch phrases. I use “puff his chest out” and “howl with pain” a lot. I know I use passive verbs too often as “was – ing” pops up a lot in my writing. Great post!


  10. I generally have about 5 crutch words per project. I notice them after about a thousand words. My second draft is when I go back and get rid of them. Of course once I realize I am using those words I tend to change to different crutch words for the rest of the work.


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