Crutch Words

Today, I want to talk about something called “Crutch Words”.

If you’d asked me about what those were prior to my Whirlwind* tour of conventions and writer’s retreats, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.  I’d have had a good guess, maybe, but that’s about all it would have been.

A Crutch Word is a word that an author, for some reason, falls utterly in love with and can’t help using it…


I remember a discussion with some of the Roaring Writers at ConCarolinas one night that brought the topic home to me.

My friend Mindy who critiques a lot of my work, mentioned in passing that I had a problem with the word “Then”.

She is usually (Ok, always)  spot on about these kinds of things so I made a mental note to look over the last thing she’d read for me and pluck out a few “Then”s.

No problem.

Another (and, I kid you not, I damn-near just typed “Then” at the beginning of this sentence) Roaring Writer, Amy agreed that I did use that word a lot.


Amy hadn’t read the same thing that Mindy did.

Just how bad was my problem?

Phase 1:








It couldn’t be that bad, could it? Of course not. It was only a couple of works. It’s not like I was using it regularly.

“I’ll show them,” I thought, referring completely to myself. My friends had already spotted the trouble.

I fired up Scrivener and opened “Chasing the Kestrel” , my finished novel and I did a quick search for “Then”.


Phase 2: Acceptance

Out of 473 pages, I had used the word “Then” 370 times.







That’s nearly once a page…only it wasn’t once a page. It was when there was action and they appeared in clumps, like mushrooms. There was no denying it.  I had a “Then” problem.

Phase 3: Surgery







I started cutting away instances of that word during the last few days of the writer’s retreat. That’s when David coined the phrase “Crutch Word” and he told me that he’s got a list of somewhere close to fifty crutch words. Blasting those little bastards comprises an editing pass.

So I’ve got a list started, and I’m glad to say that I’ve, since completed my purge.

I didn’t get rid of all of them.  I left the ones that occur in dialogue alone. Beyond that, I’ve adopted a stance that I heard Gail Carriger mention that she uses for her crutch words.

No more than 20 per book…


I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I could get down to 20. I had to get ruthless and that’s what you’ve got to do: Break out the chicken scissors and kill your darlings.

Naturally, it tightened up my prose. By the time I was done with that pass, I’d shaved more than a thousand words from what I’d thought at the time was a completed novel.

Enlightenment: When it comes, it comes like a brick to the head…

But those are the lessons that stay with you aren’t they?


* Not even close to a whirlwind. A passing breeze at best.


Time: 4:17 pm – ish

Music: Demons and Wizards – Lunar Lament