A friend recently pointed out the overuse of the phrase “I mean.” He said it’s the “like” of today, people say it automatically and don’t even realize it. It’s a filler, like an “um” or “you know.” So I started paying attention to my own diction and I heard myself saying “I mean” a lot. A LOT.
I said to myself…I mean, really? 🙂
Why do people use fillers? Why don’t they just say what they mean without saying “I mean”? Is it the person’s way of clarifying their thoughts or further explaining a point? Or is it just lazy language? It’s probably a little bit of both.
I doubt “I mean” appears in a lot of written dialogue, but there are certain words and phrases that muddy and weaken writing overall. These words and phrases are crutches the writer uses to hobble along from one plot point to the next. We all have them. Some of the words I overuse the most are:
Really (Really? *Sighs*)
Shrugged/Shrugging/Shrugs (Everyone shrugs repeatedly in my first drafts. It’s like they walk around with their shoulders constantly moving up and down!)
So…what’s a writer to do? Well, if you are in your first draft, my answer to that question would be…nothing. Don’t worry about it. Just get the story down, in all its repeated words, bad similes (‘still as a stone’–ugh) and adverbs. You can easily fix these things in revision once you reread or when pointed out by your trusted CPs. Here are some writing crutches I’ve learned to watch out for in my writing:
There are thousands of verbs in the English language. Use them! Grab your thesaurus and replace “eat quickly” with scoff, devour, or inhale.
Adverbs aren’t bad, in my opinion, but overusing them makes for weaker writing.
Writing in the active voice is more straightforward. I’m not a grammarian, but sentences seems to be cleaner and more impactful when written in active voice AKA when the subject is doing the action. Passive voice can be vague, which is a good thing if you are trying to be vague. If you are writing an action scene, active voice makes more sense.
Overused Actions and Expressions
Any action can be overused. Crying, shrugging, side-eyeing, biting a fingernail, twirling hair, etc. If you haven’t seen The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, you should check it out.
Once you (and your CPs) recognize your crutches, they’ll occur less often and will be easier to spot in revision. We all have them…I’m sure I’m not the only one “shrugging” my way through my first draft, right?