Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

I have a tendency to overuse the word "seem." I catch a lot of these uses in revision, but I often need an outside reader to help, too. How can I curb this tendency?

Use your word processing program’s tools. The search function can help you pinpoint and highlight each use of the problematic word. Read through the work paying particular attention to which uses are necessary and which are not. Highlighting also gives you a visual impression of just how often the word appears and a more objective view of its frequency.

When you’re composing something new, try to be aware of the overused word. If you keep it in mind as you write, you may find you reach to more inventive word choices or sentence structures in order to avoid it. Still, don’t worry too much about this as you write your initial drafts. You don’t want to welcome the internal editor into the process too early.

If you write early drafts by hand first and then move to the computer, you might find it helpful to somehow “flag” uses of the word so that transition from page to computer is part of the editing process. In Microsoft Word, for example, you could use the auto text function, which suggests the complete word when it recognizes the first few letters of it. To “flag” uses of “seem,” add something like this to auto texts list: “seemsREALLY?” Whenever you begin to write the word “seem” this option will pop up. It’s meant to suggest that you use this longer word, but, of course, you’re just using it to remind yourself to go easy on it.