This post is originally from summer 2017. I am tired. I’m halfway through a Book in 100 Days program from The Write Practice, writing 1000 fresh words every single day, plus editing a large chunk of those for readability in order to share with the 100DB group every Friday. On top of this, I have a regular writing commitment at Short Fiction Break – next story out this Wednesday – plus, you know, my full-time job. So I’m feeling the hit in my turn of phrase. My characters seem to do nothing but nod or blink; my settings are all silvery, my magic is constantly shimmering. It all feels very ugh. But I have sought out some tools to help me (when I reach the second draft stage) seek out my tired brain’s repetitions, and correct them into fresh, dazzling prose.
Get the data on your words. The first tool I suggest for tired writing is SpookForge, which analyses your pasted text for repetition, number of unique words and average sentence length. Be warned – this is a massive time suck as you pore over the statistics of your work. At surface level, however, it’s great for spotting words you overuse.
Let a robot tell you if your prose is hard to read. Another old favourite is the Hemingway app, which analyses your ability to present crisp, concise prose. It highlights sentences it feels are difficult to read, points out your adverbs and also shows where you’ve used passive voice. Brilliant!
Find a word well and drink from it. Having identified words I overuse, I can then turn to thesaurus.com. I don’t use it to try to find fancy alternatives for perfectly good words. I mostly use this when a word is on the tip of my tongue and I can’t recall it. It’s also good for brainstorming magical names for things. Type in a word that isn’t quite right, and it will suggest a host of related words. Click one of those, and same again. Another rabbit-hole you might end up going down, but word rabbit-holes are rarely wasted.
Not all repetition is bad. Sometimes, repetition is the clearest way. If you are going to use a thesaurus to replace some of your overused words, be cautious, and avoid the pitfall of elegant variation. If it’s a car, it’s a car. You don’t need to refer to it next time as a vehicle, and the next time as a motorised transport device. It will sound as contrived as it is.
Imbibe someone else’s lovely words. By this I mean read. Put down the non-fiction research books you’ve been devouring in order to support your novel, and pick up fiction. I struggle with finding novels I enjoy, so will often turn to old favourites. Lately, however, I’ve found some new authors whose work keeps me interested, while their phrases seep slowly into my consciousness, enriching my vocabulary and gently giving me ideas. Edward Marston’s Elizabethan theatrical murder mysteries are great, and I’ve enjoyed some seafaring Hornblower from CS Forester, plus Belgravia from Julian Fellowes, he of Downton Abbey fame. These various diversions have propped me up, word-wise. I also try to read a poem a day, for example at poems.com. Here’s some guidance on reading usefully.
Write like the wind. One thing that I struggle with when tired is coming up with fresh imagery. I can draw the characters’ actions but I cannot describe what the situation is like. I need metaphor. Or simile. But nothing as easy as pie: that’s been done.
This is real writer-work. Really, I shouldn’t be attempting it when exhausted. But sketching a rough idea of what I’m trying to convey now, will help me pin it down in second draft. So I try to invent a new way of showing what I mean, whether it is the motion of waves on a beach (pawing at the shore? water dragging away, like a dog on a lead?) – even when I know my words are, as yet imperfect. Sometimes, just the act of forcing myself to invent as something as a something can inject life into writing. Here’s an article on the fine art of creating metaphors and similes. And here are a handy simile generator and a metaphor generator to poke your brain into action. I just got ‘her nose was like a farm‘. OK, I guess that gives me a start.
Review your descriptions. Check out my article on making description work overtime to provide character, tone and plot.
Those are my go-to ways for reviving tired writing. There’s a list of several more here. And why not try some of these online tools?
The Meaning Generator. This uses words and images – click each image to change it – to build a metaphorical statement.
Adverbless. Identifies adverbs in your prose.
And check out ThoughtCo for a ton of great articles on language, grammar and style.
[edit: Tom from blogging.com contacted me to suggest this page of writing resources too – check it out.]
Word Frequency counter.
I have a pet hate of half-hearted words like almost/barely/ nearly/hardly, but I can’t find an existing resource about what they do to your writing and how to avoid them, so I’ll write one myself and link back to it when I’m done.
What tools and techniques do you use to keep your words fresh? Let me know in the comments!
Also published on Medium.