Clarion classmate slithytove raised the age-old and horrible (grin) question of what words do you overuse in your writing? Yikes!
For me, "just" and "that" are big sinners. Sure, people can talk that way, but even story dialogue sometimes has to bend and not be so damned literal to be readable. In exposition the repetition can be (a) numbing and (b) lends itself to awkward sentence constructions. Or worse, you get (c) where the narrator's voice and the dialogue voices begin to merge and you can't tell anyone apart. (!!)
This is where the Search function in a word processor is very handy. In long pieces I can spend hours tabbing through "that" and "just" and a few other choice words, eliminating, cleaning and just overall sprucing up the story as I go alone.
Then there's E-Prime, which purports to try to banish all forms of "to be" from English. (I had a second URL, but it's dead now -- sorry.)
The name comes from the equation E' = E - e, where E represents the words of the English language, and e represents the inflected forms of "to be."
(Dr. Phil notes that to this physicist, the equation should read:
E' = E - 2b , but that's another story I suppose.)
I got this from a college friend of mine in February 2003 -- Cole is also a rabid SF consumer and is a valued First Reader of my SF stories. He got onto E-Prime at the office and has used it to clean up and improve the readability of the corporate reports, presentations and documents he has to produce.
It's application to fiction writing is less strong. Surely we don't want to legislate away Shakespeare's soliloquy from Hamlet, no less... "To be or not to be..." (Just saw a terrific performance of Hamlet which I will write about Real Soon Now.) And to their credit, the E-Prime authors seem to feel that dialogue should not get the treatment (as much).
Frankly, some of the examples they cite I don't feel are all that improved -- but I do write a lot of passive writing and lots of constructions like "he had to have had..." which surely I can flag and come up with a sweeter sounding set of words so as not to choke the brains of my readers.
So it is worth a look, I think, and also gives me a set of words to include in my Search scans of my stories while I am editing and cleaning them up.
On Another Note
I have previously sung the praises of the drawings of meritahut, not just the art and details, but the resonance with writing and jobs and geeky people and cats, etc. has been very charming. However she has really outdone herself with a recent poignant series (10-05-2005 to 10-12-2005) and opened up a little window which floored me, because I didn't see where it was going. Start here and click through using the little green Next Entry right arrow button. (You can ignore the squid.)
"They" say that you should write what you know. "They" say that personal experience can better temper your writing. It is damned near shocking to see it in effect and then have to consider how to use such a thing in one's own work someday...