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Do you ever have a moment in your writing when a character’s actions feel so right? They’re so perfectly aligned to the personality that you can almost picture your hero sitting in your bedroom doing the thing. Then, a month later, when you go over the draft for the very first time, you realize that they’ve waggled their eyebrow, quirked their lips into a smile or leaned against a doorframe more times in a single chapter than most people do in a lifetime. Of course it feels natural while you’re writing it, they’ve already done it three times in as many moments!
I’m that way with words, especially dirty words. In my own defense, there aren’t nearly enough dirty words to properly express my thoughts, so I do have to reuse them from time to time. Or time to time to time. One of my early editors, who has since become a dear friend, brought this to light while editing one of my erotic romance novellas. The book just hedged 22,000 words, certainly not long enough to warrant seeing the word moan 33 times. Whisper showed up 37, hot 35 and move/ing a whopping 88.
I know all this, because Rebecca, patient, wonderful woman that she is, made a full page list of all the words that had no business appearing in quite such abandon in a director’s cut of a fantasy film, let alone a novella. And, though it was a massive pain in my ass, I searched each of the 32 offenders on the list and edited the context and word choice, until I’d chopped down their appearances to something a little more reasonable.
And thank God she made me do it. It wasn’t just a matter of changing a few words around. Ultimately, using more diverse word choice required a shifting and evolution of sentence structure and formatting. The flow and readability of the book got better and, of course, you didn’t have to read he smiled 35 times in a row.
There are many things I still owe my editors apologies for – my offensive use of commas, the moments when I try and squeeze just one more clause into a stuffed sentence, the every once in awhile when I straight up just use the wrong word (cough, den of iniquity, not inequity…). But I like to think that looking at a sheet of overused words taught me a lesson – especially since I was the one who needed to go through and get rid of most of them. I find myself much more cognizant of my use of words in a way I’ve never been. Because it really does make the book better. Editor does know best. (Most of the time…)