Consider Killing Your Gray Hairs

color confusion

I’m “of an age” where my hair color comes out of a bottle. No, not the tequila bottle…the voodoo my hairdresser concocts in the back room, where I believe they chant over bat wings and eye of newt. Such is the rage of my gray hairs.

I have lots of them. Or I imagine I do. I’m too busy killing them off like a heat-seeking missile to actually know….which leads me to “gray hair” words – those annoying little things that you tend to repeat in your writing until your readers are ready to toss your book under a garbage skow. Luckily, editors find them and kill them for you. For example, I’ve killed “that”… a “gray hair” word… in a manuscript 1200 times.

But wouldn’t it be nice to kill those “gray hair” words before you submit out? Or worse, self-publish?

We all have “gray hair” words. Mine is “really.” Go figure. It seems to be a weakness of mine, and it sneaks its bad self into my writing on a regular basis – just like my gray hair – and I have to go back and kill them. But many writers haven’t developed the ability to self-edit, and miss those “gray hair” words, so when it crosses my desk, my head spins, and I develop an eye tic.

I remember reading a book from a very well-known writer who used “palaver” and “piny woods” to frustrating excess. It was so bad that I found myself counting the abuses rather than engaging in the story. How did his editor let this pass? It’s been years since the hubs and I read that book, and we still toss in a “palaver” or “piny woods” whenever the chance arises because it’s gotten to be a bad joke between us.

It’s OK if you let your hairs go au naturale, but do take your writing to the literary hairdresser and cover up those gray hair words that litter your writing.

What is/are your gray hair word(s)?

9 Responses to Consider Killing Your Gray Hairs

  1. authorguy says:

    I don’t know that I have any specific words, but I do find myself using a lot of adverbs and phrases like ‘it seemed’ or ‘I suppose’, discursive prose that weakened the text. I find them by looking for commas and deciding if they’re really necessary.

  2. MishaBurnett says:


    Definitely, actually, seriously, certainly… I use way too many words like that. Rereading my work I have to strike a lot of those, because my characters sound like they are pleading with the reader to believe them “This is really and truly true!” which makes them sound like they are lying.

  3. Connie says:

    LBut, but, but Piney Woods is a real place, the forest lands of East Texas. They don’t call them spots nothin else! Oops, sorry I lost myself for a moment. Local jargon is a hobby of mine since I have lived in most of those places.

    Mean time, I think I’ll mosey on over to my manuscript and weed out some of my own gray words.

  4. The word “that” and the word “feeling” seems to be words I use excessively in my fiction, and somehow, whenever I write poetry, “kudzu” seems to creep its way into my work (I’m from the south, so I grew up with the stuff all around me). Very good post.

  5. tbrosz says:

    It’s a well-known fact that you can type “kudzu” just once in a manuscript, and when you put it away and read it a week later, it’s in there dozens of times.

  6. D. D. Syrdal says:

    @tbrosz HAHAHA! I love that 😉

    I’ve got mine, too many to list here. I like using to help me find them. Then I do a “search and destroy” (aka search and delete) on the manuscript when it’s pointed out to me what to go after. It’s just one tool in the arsenal, but it’s fascinating to see what it picks up on.

  7. Irene says:

    Head movements 🙂 A beta reader once commented that my characters “moved their heads a lot”. I went through the manuscript and discovered 440!!!! cases of head-nodding, head-shaking, head-tilting, head-raising… you got it 🙂 Whatever my characters did, they made some head movement first 🙂 I deleted all but 18 of them where they were actually integral to the action 🙂 The novel’s just been accepted…

  8. Mine are as numerous as… grey hairs! In my case, white ones, and they crop up everywhere, including those places you would not expect to see them. TMI. Sorry… again… (I should kill my penchant for ellipsi)

  9. Saronai says:

    I think mine are most of the common ones (such as “that”). I probably have some others, but I’m not sure yet. I’m not at an editing stage on anything yet where I’m re-reading it the way I have in my critiques on others where I find their favourite phrases and words.

    I suspect I’m overly fond of “apparently” because I apparently say it enough in conversation that my son has also picked up the habit…apparently.

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