Writer's Tip: Hesitation Words
When I’m drafting a piece for the first time I throw all the words at all the pages, and say ‘clean it up in edit’. I say this a lot. I do this a lot. So – what does this part of the process look like? I figured I’d map this out for you, and you can make of it what you will.
I was so excited to participate in the 2022 Winter Kisses & Wishes collection because their maximum word limit for submitted novellas is 30K – and this gives me a whole 5K more than the limits with which I usually have to work. I am an overwriter. While I stress myself silly about my word count being high enough, if I’m honest, making the upper-end target has never been my problem. Quite the reverse.
The point is my early draft is always on the longer side. One of the first things I clean up in redrafting are my hesitation words. They’re kind of placeholders (I put one right there for you – did you catch it? :-). I dump them subconsciously when I’m not confident of my phrasing. Paring back these unnecessary words helps prune my story length (although sometimes I think it’s a hesitation word when it’s actually essential to the rhythm and flow of the work).
When I spot these words in edit, I ask myself three questions: 1. Does the word add to my story? If the answer is no, then:
2. Does the sentence the word's ‘supporting’ need to be there at all? If the answer is yes, then:
3. Why? If the above sounds like I argue with myself a lot during redrafts, that’s because I do. The joy of having an ND brain is that there’s always more than one opinion in there, and some make a damn good case.
Examples of the hesitation words I often rework ‘out’ of my redrafts include:
occasionally / on occasion (Regency diction is a thing)
sort of only after all (I use this a lot – it’s a Regency thing, but overuse can lessen its impact).
perhaps (a Regency-esque version of ‘maybe’, and I overuse both in drafts)
Note that the above is only (there you go) a partial list, and that these are my hesitation words. Your own may be quite different. As I gain more confidence in my story these words aren’t needed. They take up space that can be better used.
My Cargo Plane
I think of my story as a transportation vehicle. A cargo plane (that, in my case, goes back in time :-)
The word limit is my baggage allowance. I have 30K to transport my readers to the Regency era in as seamlessly satisfying a style as I know how. Once I’ve shaped the plane to do this, I look for efficiencies to streamline their journey and enhance their experience. The hesitation words must go so I can draw the reader in more deeply.
I’ll need sensory words and character quirks. Geographic and climatic grounding descriptors, and action scenes. I’ll not have room for our heroine’s ‘almost-winking dimple’, when her ‘dimple winks’ at our hero – do you see how that works?
One of the last round edits I do, is these words. I do it again after all other tweaks have been made. I do this to keep my story-vehicle as sleek as possible, so your journey into the past feels seamless.
Feel free to let me know how I’m doing.