This is the final installment in a 3 part series on overused words.

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

  • I’d like to address adverbs ending in ing and ly. Beginning writers often misuse these. This is passive writing and is often thought of as “telling.” Consider the following sentence:

She slowly pulled the paper from the drawer, being sure not to make a sound so she wouldn’t awaken her grandfather.

By eliminating these two adverbs, the author will need to rewrite the sentence, but the result will be more vivid and alive as is written below.

With every nerve on edge, she pulled the paper from the drawer in a slow, purposeful motion. The slightest sound could awaken her grandfather, and then she would be in danger.

I know I’ve been teaching the importance of eliminating some words in order to tighten up the author’s writing, but sometimes we have to add more words in order to eliminate the ‘bad’ ones. The result is a more heightened sense of what’s happening.

  • It is okay to use conjunctions like but, and, for, then, and well to start sentences; however, don’t begin too many of them that way, and certainly not consecutive sentences.
  • This brings me to the next “tell” that lets publishers know this piece is from a beginning writer. Watch out for just and very. These are a couple of the most overused words in our everyday language today and often find their way into beginners’ writing. I recommend deleting every occasion in which you find these words. They are unnecessary and are considered passive (boring) writing. The only time it would be okay to use either of them would be in dialogue when a specific character is talking and if it is indicative of how that person normally would speak.
  • Beware of started to and began to. They are empty words. The moment someone starts to do something, they are actually doing it. Therefore, if someone starts to walk across the street, they are walking across the street. If someone begins to cook supper, they are cooking supper. As with all words, don’t automatically throw out all occurrences of these, but be on the lookout for times when you can delete them.

This concludes the overused word series. I hope you enjoyed it and learned something new. Thank you for reading!


Jeanne Marie Leach is a multi-published fiction author, freelance editor, speaker, and writing coach. The 46th member to join the ACFW, she now teaches classes on editing fiction through and editing group and judges the Genesis Contest and the Carol Awards. She led an ACFW critique group for five years and has attended eleven writer’s conferences, ran the ACFW Conference bookstore for four year and is currently the ACFW Novel Track Coordinator. Behind the scenes, she has privately mentored and tutored beginning ACFW writers, many of whom have gone on to win or final in writing contests, and most are now multi-published.