Stop Using Crutch Words and Immediately Improve Your Creative Writing

We all use them but what exactly are crutch words?

Crutch words slip into your writing when you’re back is turned. They are comfortable, familiar words your brain falls back on in everyday speech and which migrate, unbidden, to your creative writing.

Using crutch words is weakening your writing voice. Consciously or unconsciously, readers notice them. Be it a ‘lazy’ word or an oft repeated phrase, identifying and eliminating yours will improve your creative writing instantly.

What are Crutch Words?

Crutch words are filler words that when added to a sentence kill your ability to paint with your author voice. They are words you might use in everyday speech to give yourself thinking time (actually…) or to provide emphasis to what you’re saying (literally…). Unconsciously, these words can also slip into your writing but are often unnecessary. I like to think of these as my ‘lazy’ words. If you’re using them then chances are the sentence you’ve written isn’t strong enough to survive without it.

Let’s look at a few examples:

creative writing, improve your writing, crutch words, what is an adverb

It won’t have slipped your attention that the main culprits here are adverbs. They are as their name suggests – additions (modifiers) to verbs and as a writer you are best to avoid them unless they really do add to the context of the sentence and story.

If you are using any of the above crutch words, you will find that rewriting your sentence without them will improve what you are trying to say, you will convey your message in a more concise and creative way purely because you had to reconstruct the sentence to make the same point. You will automatically convert to an active voice which is what every writer should strive for.

Look through some of your writing, can you find any of these crutch words? This is not a comprehensive list, we all bring  our own ticks to the page. What are yours? Tell us in the comments.

If you’re finding it difficult to critique your own work and can’t stretch to the expense of an editor, try an online tool like WordCounter. This will provide you with a list of your most used words as well as give suggestions for improvement.

What else is affecting your writing and annoying your reader?

If crutch words are noticeable to readers, then so are crutch phrases. Do you have a favourite phrase you tend to repeat in your writing? I notice them like wasp stings, here are some of my favourites:

crutch words, common phrases, couple of threat the end of the day, the thing is

You may also find your characters develop an annoying habit of repeating the same actions several times throughout your text (Abi turned her wine glass in her hand) or they go through phases of pulling the same expressions (John half smiled) for pages on end. It’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes check for these occurrences, even if it’s just a family member. If they pick up on something as an irritant then it probably needs addressing.

Do any of these crop up in your writing? Do you have any phrases that you tend to fall back on? Tell us what they are in the comments.

Onwards!

Seeking out and destroying your crutch words and phrases is the first step towards strengthening your writing voice and driving home the point you’re trying to make, but a word of caution, these words are in the English language for a reason, they have a place. It’s your job as an author to know how and when to use them properly yet sparingly in your work.

If in doubt, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Why is the word or phrase there? Does it add to the sentence or is it just a filler?
  • How will removing the crutch word or phrase alter the flow of the sentence or the meaning you’re trying to convey?
  • Are you missing an opportunity to craft a more vivd description with movement and active verbs?
  • Is the crutch word or phrase making the sentence unnecessarily long? Could your writing improve from ruthlessly cutting it out and writing a shorter, snappier sentence?

Thank you for reading this tips post, please leave your worldly wisdom below for our collective learning. Next time, I’ll be speaking about speech modifiers!


Was this post useful? Let me know what you think.

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About Nicola Auckland

Busy wife to one & mum to two. I've caught the creative writing bug, now need to practice, get awesome and write something worth reading. Simples.
This entry was posted in Hints and Tips for Writers and Bloggers, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Stop Using Crutch Words and Immediately Improve Your Creative Writing

  1. Pan says:

    😂 I quite literally enjoyed being slapped around with this generously aggressive lesson.. [And] I almost nearly, truly peed myself laughing, in essence, at my own writing.. The thing is, I’m not going to lie, I’m not an author.. In fairness to my feeble writing, each and every word is my bumbling way to convey my fascinating and interesting tales, that others may horribly and sadly regret being caught in the crutchword maddness.. At the end of the day though, it’s my warped sense of humor they find adorable..
    Um.. I think..
    😉
    This was educational.. You might even get me off those crutches one day !

    Liked by 1 person

    • And the prize for funniest reply goes to…Pan!

      I still stop myself every day too. Sometimes I amuse myself by using them so generously in work emails just so I have them out of my system when I get home to write!

      Glad to be of service!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pan says:

        Would that practice be akin to leeching prose 😂

        *dashing away with prize mumbling ” mine, mine, my precious, mine”..

        Like

  2. Really helpful post – I think one of the (many) problems with crutch words is how vague they are – specificity is a writer’s friend

    Liked by 1 person

  3. tayslowe says:

    Now this us an interesting trick!:D

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoy creative metaphors and similes instead of ADJ and ADV in many cases.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great tips thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dewin Nefol says:

    Hey Nicola,

    A very useful, well-written and timely article, thank you. I will attempt use of the Word Counter feeling that it may prove of value when compiling lengthy pieces of work.

    I thought Elmore Leonard’s quote artfully succinct, thank you for its inclusion.

    Enjoy the Easter Weekend

    Take care in all ways.

    Namaste 🙂

    DN

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Dewin,

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m glad you found something of use in there and I hope it helps your writing.

      I keep Elmore’s quote nearby when I’m writing. I read my work out load and if it sounds like its trying too hard, I rewrite it.

      Have a good weekend yourself.

      Nicola x

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dewin Nefol says:

        Hey Nicola,

        Thank you. I appreciate and welcome your solid advice.

        To take that thought one stage further, I recall once reading that Walt Disney would present to his animators at Hyperion Studios a full treatment of his storyline by acting-out, verbalising and characterising the entire tale from start to finish. I am debating whether I should perhaps follow suit, maybe buy a large mirror for the corner of the room, grab a little flowing material for good effect and really get into the writing. I’m sure its something we all aspire to do in secret 🙂

        The Elmore quote is now scratched into the notebook. Thank you Nicola.

        Namaste 🙂

        DN

        Like

  7. ron877 says:

    This is a “full” post. There are lots of things for me to enjoy. I bookmarked the post in my “writing” folder, created a WordCounter account, and enjoyed the Elmore Leonard observation.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. paulandruss says:

    A great post Nicola, thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating. Shared it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Nicola Auckland gifts those of us who write with solid advice about weeding “crutch” words out of our writing. Please, read on…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Chuck says:

    I found an editing tool software that helps with this weakness. It is call Hemingway Editor and is reasonably priced. After using it a while, I catch myself before falling back into old habits. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. valrainey says:

    Several years ago I learned “kill adverbs” !
    Please write a post about using conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence. It.drives.me.wild!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Stop Using Crutch Words and Immediately Improve Your Creative Writing… | Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

  13. Kae Bucher says:

    I seem to be in love with the word “that”…

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: Show vs Tell – A Writers’ Workshop | Sometimes Stellar Storyteller

  15. wow, I too tend to use a lot of fillers, very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Very helpful. Thanks. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Great post.. I admit I use lot of crutch words…

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Sangbad says:

    Thanks Nicola for this…learned a lot…from next time I need to take care of the clutch…

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I love everything about this post. Great info!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. In fairness, you are so right!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. rugby843 says:

    Guilty as charged😩

    Liked by 1 person

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