8 Words to Avoid Overusing in Writing

Holly Huntress
5 min readNov 6, 2021

As I edit my own book, I have come across quite a few words that I tend to overuse. I want to share them with you, so you can be sure to avoid overusing them in your own writing. There are so many different ways to fix the problem of over usage. I will give you some ideas on how to take out the overused word, and add something more beneficial to your book! Here are the words to avoid overusing in writing.

Felt/Feel

This is a big one for me. While I wrote, I knew I overused it. But, I used it as a place holder with the intention of going back in later to fix change it. Every time “felt” is used, or “feel” there is a good chance you can replace it with a description of the feeling. Here is an example:

Before: Even though she was annoyed with him, she felt happier than she had in a long time.

After: Even though she was annoyed with him, happiness flowed through her, washing away every other care as she walked along beside him

Also, a lot of times when the word “felt” is used, you can just take it out and add an “-ed” onto the specific feeling in the sentence. Here is an example:

Before: Bo gasped and she felt him stiffen beside her.

After: Bo gasped and he stiffened beside her.

These are just two examples of how you can replace the word felt. There are plenty of ways to do it to compliment your writing. Choose whichever way works best for you! Sometimes, it is okay to use felt — I still used it 35 times in my book! If it’s not needed, or if you are telling and not showing, try to find a better way to show the feeling.

Shrug

Before editing my book, this word was overused. Every time a character was indifferent, confused, annoyed, anywhere I could use it, I did. Now, it is only used twice in my book. A lot of the time I just deleted the sentence it was used in, and nothing changed. You still knew how the character was feeling without the shrug. I also replaced it with other moves of indifference. For example, have the person shrugging pick at their nails, or stare off at something else.

Nod

I love this word apparently! I used it at least once per page. Every time someone agreed, or looked at another person, they were nodding. I was able to change or just delete a lot of the nods. I am down to 23 in my book. There are ways to get rid of all the nodding. You can delete it, or you can change it. An incline of the head, or if they are more childlike, bobbing their head can work. Of course, nodding is okay in some places. If there is a more descriptive way for them to assent or acknowledge someone, though, do that instead!

Sigh

*Sigh.* I love using this word for annoyance, or being dejected, or simply being tired. Of course, I overused it in my book. Even after going through and replacing or deleting it I’ve used it over 30 times, which really isn’t too bad. To me, 30–50 is an okay range. It’s when I get up into the 100’s for uses of the word that it’s really a problem.

Try using the word “huff” or “exhale” in place of sigh. You may have to rearrange the sentence, or add in a few more descriptors. It can help to break up the overuse of the word. It really does make a difference.

Adverbs ending in -ly

These are those words that we use to describe how an action is being done. Quickly, slowly, desperately, easily, haughtily, etc. I have found that these words can be useful sometimes when describing a scene. But again, it’s all about using them sparingly. Make sure that it is adding value to the sentence. A lot of times I can just delete the word and the sentence is fine without it. Other times, I think the word really makes the reader understand the feelings or actions of the character. Sometimes it is better to avoid using these words in our writing.

Was/Is, Were/Are

This is a tricky one. I have found that these words are essential in writing, however, there are times when we need to avoid using these words in our writing. They are often needed when telling a background story, or laying foundation for a scene. However, there are times when a scene would do better if there were more descriptions being used, instead of simply stating what is happening. For example:

Before: The silence was broken when they heard a growl off in the distance.

After: A bone chilling growl off in the distance broke their silence.

Before: As they walked, Andy noticed the trees on either side of the road were beginning to change from spruce and pine…

After: As they walked, Andy noticed the trees on either side of the road began to change from spruce and pine…

By changing these two sentences and removing the was and were it makes the events less passive. You are brought into the moment, rather than just watching it from the outside.

Smile/Grin

This is a harder one to replace for me. I definitely overused smile. So, I replaced a lot of smiles with grins. Now they are both overused in my book.

It can be a vicious cycle. Some other words to be used instead of smile or grin would be smirk, sneer, beam, leer. Unfortunately, all these other words are more specific for certain emotions. Whereas smiling and grinning is more neutral.

There are ways to help yourself for overusing these words when they can’t be changed to another form of smiling. You can always delete the word or sentence. I did this quite a bit. A lot of times it is clear from the situation or surrounding dialogue that the character is smiling. If it’s not, you can make it more apparent.

Look

There are so many different ways to say that someone looked at someone, or something. They can gaze, glance, inspect, search, investigate, glimpse, ogle, regard, watch, peer, peek, scrutinize, scan, check out, eyeball, behold and more. The task here is deciding which word best fits the situation. It is certainly easier to just use look, but it can get old. Any of these other words can give the reader a better idea of how your character is looking at someone.

If you are using look as a way to say that something looked like something else, you can use seemed or appeared.

If you have already written your book or story, you can still go back through and change these words out! The find option or CTRL + F, will let you search for each of these words. This tells you how many times the word is found so you will know if it is overused.

Remember — I am not saying that you cannot use these words at all! Feel free to use them, just be careful to avoid overusing words in your writing. You want to keep people interested with your writing. Changing up your words and trying not to write too passively will keep your readers engaged.

For more editing tips — check out this post on self editing!

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Holly Huntress

Author and content creator. My books - the Broken Angel series & Unbound - can be found on Amazon!