Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Hello. My Name Is Jill, and I’m a Word-A-Holic

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

When I talk, it’s more than a conversation. It’s a performance. The words are spilling out a mile a minute. People are laughing. (Not at me. Hopefully.) And when I walk away, I can’t remember half of what I just said.

For example:

I’m trying to explain to my child how to do a simple task. My explanation, however, makes things more complicated than building a skyscraper.

My husband comes home from work. I try to tell him about my day, but I'm getting the feeling that I lost him at "Hello."

Ever feel like you aren’t being heard? I have. I finally realized that part of the problem isn’t that I’m too quiet, or that I’m not being clear. It is that I, Jill Williamson, am a word-a-holic. I’m addicted to talking! The thrill of speech. Interacting with others. Communicating. Weaving a story. Telling every, juicy detail.

I am addicted to words.

Just as I can lose my husband when trying to thrill him with my adventures at the supermarket, I also, can lose my reader with my addiction to words.

As a writer, I love words, especially the ones I have put to paper. I fall in love with my sentences, phrases, descriptions, and dialogue.

But often, love is blind.

Extra words clutter our work. They cloud the real story in a mess of extra blather that help our readers fall asleep. We don't want that. Not at all.

Below are twelve steps to help you break your word addictions, and get to the real story, no ugly frills attached. These twelve steps, if mastered, will help any word-a-holic on his or her way to recovery.


Do what you can to get rid of:

1. Adverbs (especially the -ly variety): These words tend to tell emotion rather than show it.
2. Telling verbs: Felt, saw, heard, thought, looked, watched, tasted, wondered, decided, noticed, remembered, etc. These words tell rather than show. It's always better to say, "A bell rang nearby" than, "She heard a bell ring nearby."
3. Absolutes: Every, very, entire, everyone, everything, etc. These are often untrue in your sentence. Be careful not to exaggerate.
4. Passive verb forms: is (or) was going, was being done, was being written, are taught, etc. Better to write: went, did, wrote, teaches (Mr. Smith's classes are taught in the gym vs. Mr. Smith teaches his classes in the gym.)
5. Continuing action words: As, when, while, after, etc. It's better to show each action separately and in the order they happen.
6. Double verbs. They usually don't change the meaning of the sentence: Started to, began to, etc.
7. Repeating yourself. Reading your work out loud helps you find places of repetition.
8. Descriptions: These are necessary. Just make sure you aren't describing too many things for too long.
9. It: The word "it" can often be replaced with something more specific. "It" is especially bland at the start of a sentence. ;-)
10. Explanations: If you find yourself giving definitions or explaining backstory (especially within dialogue) stop! Stop the madness!
11. Overused words or phrases: was, just, like, he/she sighed/smiled/laughed, etc. Do a search for these, then make an extra effort to come up with something more creative.
12. Vague words: many, few, a lot, lots, a little, some, like, etc. These types of words often add no meaning to your prose and sometimes confuse the reader.

If you need more help on this or want to print a quick reference, click here to check out Stephanie & Jill's list of Weasel Words and Phrases.

*Please note: Sometimes your writing needs an -ly adverb, a continuing action verb, a double verb, or any of the things listed above. In these situations, use your best judgement. The point is to choose words intentionally and weed out words you use because of habit.

Are you a word-a-holic too? What words do you overuse?

(I'm on a trip to Arizona right now where WiFi is practically non-existent. Please feel free to comment, but I won't be home to answer until March 28. Thanks!)


  1. I am definitely a word-a-holic as well. I was cringing as I read that list as I am guilty of almost overusing all of them! Overused words or phrases are definitely the ones I overuse the most. I had a friend reading my novel, and she told me my main character was constantly "licking her lips." When I went back and read through my draft my hero was certainly licking her lips way too often!
    Thank you so much for this list! I'm definitely going to have to go back and look through my draft for these!

    1. Licking lips. Ha ha. Yeah, every author has little quirks that they tend to overuse.

  2. I definitely needed this post! It would seem that I am definitely a word-a-holic...I use nearly all of the words on the list.
    Additionally, sometimes I'll find a phrase or word that I really, really love, and I'll use it far too much. For example, one of my characters does a lot of eyebrow-cocking. He cocks his eyebrows so often that it's rather embarrassing. :)
    Thank you for this fantastic post, Jill! It's definitely going to come in handy.

    1. LOL! An eyebrow-cocking addict. Interesting. :-)

  3. What a great post!

    I'm guilty of a lot of the things on this list, unfortunately. One of my biggest writing problems is that my descriptions can be entirely too long. A friend called my attention to this about a year ago when I sent her an excerpt of a story I was writing. She told me that it smacked of Dickens, a trait which she praised but also warned could be rather tedious. Another friend who received the same excerpt said that there were "too many long words that... [got] in the way of the story." Since then, I've realized just how true that is of nearly all my writing.

    I love writing descriptions because I love playing with language. I enjoy experimenting with different styles and tones and stumbling upon particularly striking turns of phrase. But in the pursuit of artistry, I've often overlooked the fact that my audience doesn't necessarily share my enthusiasm for word-crafting. As discouraging as it is to be told that my handiwork is "a laborious read," I think my increased awareness of the fact has helped me to grow as a writer. I hadn't even thought about wordiness being a problem in the past, but because of the insight of some very dear critique partners I've been more receptive to the idea of sloughing off unnecessary portions of my writing. (This is not to say I've quite achieved an ideal medium yet, by any means, but I'm at least learning to improve. ^_^)

    All that said, thank you very much for this post, Mrs. Williamson! I think one of the reasons I love Go Teen Writers so much is that it helps me not to feel alone. I don't comment much, but I do read each and every thing you and Mrs. Morrill blog about. It's really encouraging to know there are others who've had and overcome the same difficulties. :)


    1. Thanks for sharing that, Kelsey! We love lurkers and commenters both. I'm glad you find the posts helpful. And I'm glad you're learning from your critique group too. It can be hard at first, but learning to better yourself is such an important lesson. And I bet you'll find a nice balance that allows you to use your voice in a way that pleases your readers as well as yourself.

  4. Oh my gosh, Jill. THIS IS SO ME: When I talk, it’s more than a conversation. It’s a performance. The words are spilling out a mile a minute. People are laughing. (Not at me. Hopefully.) And when I walk away, I can’t remember half of what I just said.

    Brilliant post.

  5. That sad, sort of liberating moment when you realize that you not only do all of these in your 'get the words out' phase, but that someone else can put it on the page for you to see once and for all. Words are important! We need them! They want to be loved and used! Thank you for the post. Bookmarking this for my edits.

  6. Hi, my name is Ash. I am a word-a-holic, and that is my confession. I have a really bad issue of over explaining, which really makes my writing suffer. Also, I'm really bad at summarizing. You know, when you skip months and just do a quick summarization? I have so much trouble doing that I can't even do a week. Or a day. Sometimes I can't even get my character to the next room... No that I'm a bad writer, but sometimes those last two do happen... Anyway, I don't know which one is the side-affect of the other, but they are linked. Any advice for the summarizing thing?

    1. Hi, Ash! You are welcome here and are among friends. LOL

      Yes, I have two posts to help you with transitions of time. Check these out:

      Hope they help!