Writing’s hard work. Ask any writer. Good writing is harder. Sometimes weasel words can slip in.
Weasel words are “favorite” words that pop up when a writer is being lazy or rushing.
I first heard the term in a workshop with Margie Lawson. She expanded weasel words to include phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés and opinion words that might draw a reader from the story.
Her solution is to keep a personal weasel word list for every manuscript and when you do the edits, remove the weasels.
Grammarly created this infographic of frequently overused words to help writers eradicate such words. Margie and I would call it a weasel word list.
Grammarcheck.net recently posted this infographic of 21 frequently ignored (or unknown) grammar rules and writing mistakes that everyone who writes should know.
How many do you know? How many do you ignore?
I’m with them on all but the serial comma and semicolon. I only use a serial comma for clarity in my writing. And, I think the semicolon is too formal for my voice. I only add it when my copy editor insists.
Last Monday, September 24th was National Punctuation Day. Thanks Steve Laube and Janice Heck for sharing on your blogs and putting me in the know about this yearly celebration.
I’m a week late this year, but next year I’ll be on time to celebrate the day Jeff Rubin established as the “celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semi-colons, and the ever mysterious ellipsis” in 2004.
Steve Laube posted this five minute repartee between Dean Martin and Victor Borge skit with Phonetic Punctuation. It’s hilarious any day of the year.
On a more serious note, if you have as much trouble with punctuation and grammar as I do, I recommend:
When I started writing for publication, I repeatedly heard three “absolute must dos.”
Years later and many published works, I have my own opinion about those MUSTs.
#1 Write what you know.
First, imo, writing what you know is easy lazy writing. I’ve done it, you’ve done. Who hasn’t?
BUT, we live in the technology age. These days you can research anything without leaving home.
Or looking at it another way, we write fiction. We can make it up!
It’s been my experience, as long as my reader can suspend their disbelief and buy into my story I don’t have to be an expert about what I’m writing.
I will qualify my opinion by saying that IF you write about what you know and what interests you, your story is more likely to come alive for your reader. Good Sound research can produce an engaging story too.
So, don’t limit yourself to what you know. Explore. Be adventurous. Be creative. Research.
#2 Don’t write to market.
Indie publishing has blown this MUST out of the water.
On the other hand, if you write to the traditional publishing market, you might want to AVOID market trends.
By the time a manuscript is ready for what is currently trending, that trend may have died. Big Six publishers take too long from contract to reality in a bookstore. Do you really want to spend weeks, months, even years writing a book that won’t sell?
BUT if you’re considering indie publishing or e-publishing, I suggest you keep your eye on the marketplace. Publishers’ Marketplace offers deal news which is an indicator of what’s coming out.
Subscribe to the free lunch edition of Publishers’ Market place or spring for a paid subscription to the Marketplace. Check regularly to see what’s trending.
Then if you need a story idea, you’ll have plenty of ideas. You might find one that appeals to you and will likely be most saleable.
#3 Write the best book you can.
This one is absolutely, positively TRUE.
What sells a book or an article or a paper is CONTENT.
Agents and editors reject mediocre or unsellable submissions. Reviewers and readers will post bad reviews. So write the best, most creative, most marketable manuscript or article you can. ALWAYS!
I wish I could promise that you follow these MUSTs you’ll find success. I can’t.
There are two other elements.
Only one of my early advisors – New York Times bestseller JoAnn Ross — was honest enough to share this illusive element of writing success.
Thank you, JoAnn
The other key element and critical MUST is
So I end by wishing you luck because every author – aspiring or established – needs a boatload of LUCK and this perserverance quote from my website writers’ resource page:
You do not know what the next effort will bring because the future is not based on the past. That feeling of wanting to give up is based solely on the past, which really doesn’t matter anymore. What matters now is where you’re headed, not where you’ve been. And when you view it from that perspective, giving up is simply not an option.” ~~~R. Marston
What’s on your list of MUSTs for aspiring writers?
When I shared a recent chapter with my critique partners, one of them questioned this sentence, “He found himself in deep water.”
Not understanding that my POV character’s internal thought meant he found himself in trouble, she thought I had put him in a swimming pool and forgot to put that detail on the page.
Frequently what’s playing in my head fails to come across on the page in early drafts. Thank heaven for CPs who call me when that happens.
Not this time, though. This time I was using Texas talk.
She’d never heard the expression “in deep water” used that way. Her stumbling over the phrase led to a discussion of colloquial language and how words, phrases, and even clichés vary from one geographical area to another.
In Texas, we have a whole slew of vocabulary that has folks scratching their heads. I just used one—slew, meaning a whole bunch. We’re always y’all-ing and gonna and fixin’ when we talk. Non-Texans do sometimes need an interpreter.
Some more phrases:
come hell or high water – proceeding, regardless of the problems, obstacles, etc.
conniptions – get upset and raise a ruckus
hissy fit – kin to a conniption a state of extreme agitation and not a pretty thing to see
hot as tin toilet seat – in Texas we know that’s HOT
screaming bloody murder or banshee scream – not a pleasant sound at all
bone tired – yep, been there
slow as molasses – visualize black syrup oozing out of the jar
keep your pants on – meaning not what you think, but to be patient!
When I’m being lazy with my writing or rushing, Texas terms and phrases naturally flow into my first drafts.
I also have favorite words that pop up. Words like: had, that, could, was, felt, knew, thought, saw, walked, come. Margie Lawson calls these “weasel words.”
I learned in Margie’s deep editing class, The EDITS System, to keep a WEASEL WORD CHART listing colloquial phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés, and opinion words.
Unfortunately, my chart populates too easily. I’m my own worst copy editor. that’s why I always pay a professional before my books are published. The words I overuse stand out like sore thumbs to others. (Sorry, Margie had to use a cliché to prove my point.)
During the revision stages, the chart helps eliminate such weasel words and phrases using my word processor’s search and replace function.
BUT characterization can need slang and colloquial regional dialogue. Texan talk has a function if the protagonist is a Texan or the setting is Texas.
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