Lisa Lenard-Cook

The Lonely Writer’s Companion

by Lisa Lenard-Cook

April 2013

Eight Easy Errors

"I’ve found that the eight usage errors below are easy to spot, once you know what you’re looking for."

In the throes of adding and subtracting scenes, tightening our story arcs, and making certain our characters are true to themselves, we sometimes forget to consider the words we use. In the years I’ve edited my own work and others’, I’ve found that the eight usage errors below are easy to spot, once you know what you’re looking for. (And yes, that was a dangling preposition. Sometimes, they’re preferable to a clunky contrivance.) Whether you use this list early or late in your own revision process, you’ll find it a handy reference. I know I do.

Narrative Reiterating . So much happens in this paragraph, you just can’t resist stating that your protagonist is stunned. Speechless. Thrilled. Aghast. Et cetera. But if you’ve done your work in-scene, re-stating how your protagonist feels is narrative reiteration. Delete it.

Wrong Verbing . Jack’s left hook connects. Mark feels his jaw creak. “Creak”? I don’t think so. “Snap,” maybe. Or “crack.” Make sure you use the right verb. The wrong one not only ruins the effect, sometimes it’s good for a laugh—just when you want the reader to cry.

Adjectiviting . When you use the right verb, it does all the work. A less-than perfect verbs means less-than-heavy lifting. Yes, I’m using adjectives in that second sentence to make my point. If you feel your verb requires an adjective, reconsider the verb.

Participling . I’m using participles for all eight headings here to make my point: -ing’ing = weakening your verb. Thou shalt not participle thy verbs. Ever.

"Don’t! Ever! Use! Exclamation! Points!"

Exclaiming! . Don’t! Ever! Use! Exclamation! Points!

Thesaurusing . Yes, sometimes we need our word processing program’s thesaurus. But if you use it to find a bigger word when the smaller one you’ve got is perfect, you’re thesaurasing. Reserve your thesaurus for those creaks that should be cracks, not those fissures you turn into imperfections at the click of a mouse just because you can.

"If you feel an adverb is called for, reconsider your verb."

Adverbing . It’s not that I’m anti-adverb. It’s just that I’ve come to suspect their sneaky little intrusions. In spoken language, they’re everywhere, making what’s already unique really unique (something, I might add, that’s not possible, as unique means singular and can’t be more than it already is). If you feel an adverb is called for, reconsider your verb. The right verb precludes the need for an adverb. Really.

Over-wording . Why use one word when you can use ten, or twenty? Because the right word connects with your reader. The other nine, or nineteen, reveal your weakness as a writer. Consider every word. Your readers will, and if there are too many words, those readers won’t stick around.


Have you discovered usage errors of your own? Share them by joining the conversation at Authorlink’s Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!

Find Your Story,
Write Your Memoir

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
and Lynn C. Miller
Buy This Book via

PEN-short-listed author Lisa Lenard-Cook’s most recent book is Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press), which she co-authored with Lynn C. Miller, with whom she co-founded of ABQ Writers Co-op (, creating community in New Mexico for writers everywhere. She's an editor of the literary magazine bosque, on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, and the Board of Narrative Arts Center in Santa Fe. Website: