A Writer’s Best Friend

If I asked you what you considered to be a writer’s best friend, what would you say?

Please don’t say “Wikipedia.”

My clients would probably reply, “Bob Hostetler.” But that can’t be everyone’s answer.

You might consider “a fine fountain pen” or “a blank page in a brand new journal” to be your best friend as a writer. Maybe the thesaurus is your best friend (ally, associate, buddy, companion, comrade, “mate,” pal).

For some, it’s the Control-Z or Command-Z keyboard command to “undo” whatever it was you just did. For others, a writer’s best friend is a strong cup of coffee or the soundtrack from The Last of the Mohicans.

But my nominee for “writer’s best friend” is Find-and-Replace.

I realize that not everyone uses it to death the way I do, but Find-and-Replace has been very good to me—so good that I should buy it flowers. If only I knew where to send them.

Why do I say that?

Because Find-and-Replace has mitigated some of my worst faults and weaknesses as a writer, and helped me hunt them down like the cowards like they are and squash them like bugs. So, yeah, since I have a penchant for bad similes and mixed metaphors, I can use Find-and-Replace, anytime I finish a page, chapter, article, or blog post, to “find” the word “like” and eliminate or improve each occurrence.

Can Find-and-Replace work for you as it does for me? I bet it can. Here are just a few suggestions for how to use it:

  • Double-space after a period. Back in the day, when we wrote with typewriters (if you’re under forty, you might need to Google “typewriter” to see what I’m talking about), it was customary to double space after a period. But that’s no longer necessary in the computer age, though some of us still do it out of habit. So “Find” every double-space and “Replace” with a single space. It takes about a second-and-a-half, even in a long document.
  • “That.” Most writers—even the best among us—overuse the word “that.” If that is a weakness of yours (see what I did there?), simply use Find-and-Replace to locate every “that” in your manuscript and delete those that are superfluous.
  • “Was.” Most writers can reduce the number of passive verbs like “is” and “was” in their writing, replacing them with more active verbs. “Is,” of course, is so short and common in other words as to make Find-and-Replace unhelpful, but searching for “was” and replacing it and its related words can enliven your writing.
  • “Very.” The word “very” is very common in first drafts. Find-and-Replace can help to save you from it, reminding you to replace “very angry” with “incensed,” for example. And that would be very good.
  • Exclamation points! Scott Fitzgerald famously said that an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke. They have a use, of course, but should be sparingly employed. So Find-and-Replace exclamation points with periods! You’ll feel better!
  • Your personal weaknesses. Among the self-editing exercises I urge upon writers when I speak at writers’ conferences is to learn your personal weaknesses and edit accordingly. One of my weaknesses: I love—absolutely love—semi-colons. So, when I finish an article or chapter, I Find-and-Replace semi-colons. It hurts; it must be done, nonetheless.

 These are just a few suggestions, but I hope they help. Do you have a favorite Find-and-Replace habit that strengthens your writing?

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