Thursday, September 24, 2015

3 Easy Tips to Avoid Repetition in Your Writing

For the next few weeks, I will occasionally be re-posting a few of the pieces I've written on this blog about writing. Let me know if a post has been helpful for you—or if you have another topic you would like an editor to address. This post first appeared in July 2014.

Many of us tend to use certain words and phrases over and over. They are so familiar to us and our friends and family that none of us even notices the repetition. When those same words and phrases are expressed to an audience, however, they can be a distraction. Instead of enjoying the interesting colors of our story, they might get hung up on a pattern we don't intend.

All the eggs in your storytelling basket can be eggs, but perhaps they don't have to look so much alike!

As a line editor, it's my job to ask authors if they want to address repetition I have identified in their writing. For example, in a recent edit, the words utter and utterly were used a total of twenty-eight times in a rather short book. I suggested employing those words only when their power was truly needed, and using, for example, the words total and totally or thorough and thoroughly instead. It’s up to the author what to do, of course; she has written an intensely personal story and paints the power of her experiences in part with her word choices. But if an editor like me notices repetition, readers might also notice it.

Consider these three tips for hunting down repetition:

1.       Ask some folks if they have noticed you have a repetitive speech or writing pattern. A spouse or close friend might be able to tell you without hesitation. A new friend, however, might give you a fresher take—if they think you truly want to know! 

2.       Make one of your revision/editing passes a hunt for repetition. If this kind of review is a first, you might be surprised by what you discover. If this type of review has become routine, you probably not only discover repetition more quickly but have become more adept at eradicating it in the first place.

3.       Keep a list of the words and phrases you tend to repeat. Just as it is a good idea to keep a list of words you tend to use incorrectly, it's a good idea to make a “repetition” list. Then you can search for those words and phrases and easily make changes—where some variety will not change the impact you are trying to achieve. After all, repetition is not bad if the word or phrase you use is the right word or phrase for your message or story.

What are your tips for avoiding repetition in writing?

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