I knew this. I’d already made passes through my unpublished novel, Snow White and the Civil War, looking for this very thing. I’d caught a lot, and it was a smoother read.
But then I participated on a 1lineWed on Twitter, with the word nod. It was an eye-opener. I still had too many, and despite my earlier efforts, some of them were even on the same manuscript page.
Shortly after that, I posted my first chapter for online critique on AbsoluteWrite’s Share Your Work, and the critiquers’ verdict came back that I still had too many smiles. And they were right.
So I did a formal Word search for both words, and I ended up cutting them by about half. It wasn’t even that hard, not like changing story. I just needed to approach it systematically. I’ve also learned I need a similar search for could and would, since these two seem to be invisible to me.
I still think the more organic passes, where you sit and read the entire book as a reader would, have more overall value. But it’s definitely worth a systematic check for any words you overuse, especially if they’re verbs. It’s so easy to gloss over our mistakes when we’re editing our own work.
Which is all the more reason to take care of this sort of thing on our own before we trade critiques. I want to respect my beta readers’ time, and I don’t want them so busy catching repetitive beats that they miss something more important, like a potential story tweak.
All part of the frustrating, but I’m assuring myself, not never-ending process of editing. It’s taken far longer than I would’ve thought, but my manuscripts are so much better now than my early drafts. I still prefer drafting to editing, but there’s an undeniable satisfaction in polishing your words until they shine.