Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Writers' Forbidden Words

A few months ago, I read an article that listed the words that we writers were forbidden to use. After that, I kept stumbling over other lists. The same words kept popping up the various lists. I kept wondering how one could write an 80,000+ word novel and not use some of those words. I’ve listed the words we’re not supposed to use below. One so-called expert even has said that the word “the” should be deleted.


In a 1995 article entitled “Writerisms and Other Sins,” CJ Cherryh called the following verbs “dead” and “colorless”

  • walked
  • turned
  • crossed
  • run, ran
  • go, went, gone
  • leave, left
  • have, had
  • get, got


Some “experts” really hate adverbs. These adverbs appeared on many people’s lists:

  • absolutely
  • actually
  • also
  • always
  • anxiously
  • completely
  • constantly
  • continually
  • continuously
  • eagerly
  • finally
  • frequently
  • hopefully
  • incredibly
  • ironically
  • just
  • literally
  • merely
  • nearly
  • never
  • not
  • now
  • often
  • really
  • so
  • that
  • then
  • totally
  • unfortunately
  • very

More Pesky Verbs

  • believe
  • feel
  • locate
  • need
  • seem


  • about
  • all
  • almost
  • always
  • amazing
  • any
  • big
  • every
  • just
  • short
  • small
  • smart
  • tall
  • wonderful

Our Favorite "Bad" Words

Sometimes, we writers consciously or more often, unconsciously use the same words over and over. I tend to like “just” and use it just as often as I can during the first draft. It’s during the first edit that I start deleting it. By the third edit, the word has been purged from the manuscript.

Which of the words listed above do you tend to use over and over in a manuscript? How do you get rid of them? Or do you?

How do you get around not using these words? Or do you even try? Some people keep a thesaurus near the keyboard. Others will sit and stare into space until an alternative word comes to them. While others wait until what they hope will be the final edit to begin weeding the offensive words out of their manuscript.

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