Friday, September 3, 2010

Ninja Wordle Skills to Improve your Writing

This funky post is dedicated to the BBQ party weekend blog-hop suggested by the fabulous KarenG. So join the party and hop along to visit some new blogger friends.


For those who haven't encountered Wordle yet, it's an online service that takes your manuscript (or website or blog) and turns it into a graphic representation, where more frequently used words are drawn larger. Below is the Wordle for Byrne Risk.

Naturally, your character names are going to be most common (or at least they should, unless you're using a strange narrative form without proper pronouns), and common words like "the" and "and" are ignored.

You can quickly see that I like the word "like" and seem to spend a lot of time "look"ing at my character's "face" and "eyes." I also appear to think diminuatively, using the word "small" to describe everything from rodents to computer screens. It's one of my default descriptors, which is quite handy in spotting places that need a few well-placed details. Just make sure you don't swap one commonly used word ("tiny") for another ("small"). Why is everything in my world microscopic?

Identifying your "overused" words is an easy way to find your MS weaknesses. I take the top 20 or so overused words, do a search-and-replace to highlight them, and then go about attacking those yellow jacketed offenders and converting them to more descriptive phrases. Or simply deleting them, which is often easy to do.


Under the Language option, you can view your actual word counts. And copy and paste them into Excel for further torment. Once you sort your words by frequency, it becomes easier to pick out the top over-used words, but now you can also identify the under-used words.

This is where the Ninja part comes in: look at the bottom of that list and you will find hundreds of words that are only used once in your manuscript.

Awesome author Linda Sue Park mentioned in her workshop that every unique word in your manuscript should be used at least twice. This isn't for your colorful adjectives ("massive" "terrified") or your common words that just happen to be uncommon in your MS ("configurations" "lady") but the unique words that are part of your world-building ("lepur" "murinda"). Linda Sue's point was that if the word is important enough to be used once, then it should be important enough to your story to use twice. This way, you aren't just throwing off random words with no meaning to your reader.

This list of single-use-words is also great for finding ...

  • unique spellings that somehow get past the spell check to create new and interestingly unique words ("blonde" which should be "blond")
  • inadvertent variations on spelling the same word ("spin-tronic" and "spintronic")
  • things you're pretty sure are a word, but you wouldn't want to hang your life on it ("proofed")
  • a few words you didn't realize were in your MS, but you're rather proud of ("rapturous" "hewn")

The only flaw is that Wordle doesn't account for capitalization or plurals, so you may have used "lepur" twice, but only once was it capitalized.

Be prepared to spend some time on this, as I had over a 1000 words that I only used once. However, weeding through those thousand "flags" allowed me to find and correct several (potentially embarassing) mistakes before my MS was sent out to agents.

I recommend doing this kind of search only when you're very close to submitting, as a last and final check.


  1. Wow, that's super-helpful. Thanks, Susan!

  2. That's cool. I absolutely love wordle!

  3. @Adam Coming from the Ninja himself, I take that as quite a compliment! :)

  4. Wow. I know and love Wordle but I had no idea about these advanced Ninjitsu options. I will now be bookmarking this page. Thanks Susan!

    Today's guest blogger is Emilia Plater!

  5. I didn't know about the advance features. Thanks, Susan. I can only imagine which words are going to come out more than I would like to see them. :)

  6. I haven't used wordle yet, but it sounds like fun....Thanks for sharing what LSP said. I've been to one of her workshops before. She's amazing!

  7. @Laura Wordle rocks, doesn't it?

    @Matt I'm glad you found it useful!

    @Stina It's cool to discover things you've written that you don't even remember!

    @Sharon I was in awe of Linda Sue during the whole conference. I think I officially have an author crush on her.

    @Adam *smiles*

  8. This is awesome! I've used it but never for this purpose. So cool. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I'm here from the BBQ --- I have never heard of doing that - how interesting! Now I want to try it ... just to see!

  10. Hello from the BBQ! Great to meet another middle grade writer. Love the blog. New follower!

  11. Hi, stopping by from KarenG's. I have never heard of Wordle, it sounds interesting, though way over my head at the moment. ;) I am sure I will remember this as I get closer to actually submitting a MS and I will rack my brain, "What was I supposed to remember to do???" Have a great weekend!! Janelle

  12. @Sheri You bet! :)

    @Kathryn Welcome! And congrats on your books!

    @Terry Your book looks awesome! :)

    @JW Welcome! That is why I have to bookmark things in my Google Reader - otherwise I would never find them again!

  13. Thanks, I'd seen Wordle mentioned before but lost the link!

  14. I never knew why people liked to use Wordle. Thanks for the explanation. :)

  15. I've popped over from Karen's bbq :)

    Love this post. I use Wordle all the time, but hadn't thought of the ninja option - awesome!! Thanks for the tip :)

  16. @Alex and MT Happy I could help!

    @Jemi You are most welcome! :)

  17. Hi, I wandered over from Karen's BBQ. I've seen you around blogs I frequent and don't know why it's taken so long to follow but here I am. I love the point you made about using unusual words more than once. I caught myself using 'gawped' twice in my WIP (not close together) and wondered if I shouldn't. Now I feel vindicated and quite happy since I like that word. :D

  18. You have an adorable blog, Susan, and very informative. I'm looking forward to learning a lot from you. Take care.

  19. If you like Wordle, you'll love the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It finds phrases that you've overused as well as words. It has a bunch of other reports, too, all of which help identify weaknesses which should be addressed.

    I love it. It really saves me time when I'm editing, and it catches things I've missed on numerous read-throughs.

  20. I came for the corn on the cob, but the Wordle sucked me in and I'm staying. It sounds really interesting. I will definitely be trying it! I love that it gives a word count. I'm curious to see how many times I use words!

  21. I never knew you could use wordle as a writing/editing tool. I just thought it was a cool toy. I am dong the happy dance tonight because I got it to work for the first time EVER! It normally times out on me without showing me the end result.

  22. @Tricia Welcome! I'm glad you found your way here! :)

    @Kelly Thanks so much and welcome! :)

    @Kay Tee I've seen and tried out AutoCrit before and it does seem pretty cool, but it's hard to assess all the great features without having a membership - and I'm too cheap to pay the member fee. Are you a member? Did you find it worth the cost? Thanks for the tip!

    @Jennie Welcome! I'm glad you found the post useful - I love sharing the writing journey and unexpected treasures found along the way!

    @Vicki Yay! I'm glad Wordle decided to stop being finicky for you! I've had it time out a few times, too - I think it's pretty popular. :)

  23. Hi! Dropping in from Karen's BBQ to say hello.

    I love Wordle. It's hours of fun - and useful, too.

  24. Hi Susan,

    I'm dropping in from Karens BBQ Party, such a great way to meet everyone.

    I've never heard of Wordle until now! I'll definitely be using it once my WIP is finished. Thanks so much for sharing it! ;)

  25. Hey, Susan. I'm also dropping in from the big BBQ, but I'm so glad to have found your blog! I have two advanced readers at home so I'm always interested in smart books. Looking forward to following.

  26. That's prety cool. I've never used wordle.

  27. @Talei Welcome! I'm happy to spread the Wordle Word! :)

    @Lisa Thanks for stopping by! Finding books for those advanced readers is tricky, but check out my recommended reads list on the sidebar for lots of good picks!

    @Jennifer Wordle is pretty to look at, if nothing else! :)

  28. Hi,

    Just staggered over from Karen's BBQ and your comment on my blog. Thanks for the follow. Love the idea of Wordle too, thanks for the link. I'm off to play ...

  29. So instead of doing my homework, I was cruising through your blog-- great link!! I'm playing with this right now (I need to get back to writing, I keep pushing it back and pushing it back)

  30. @Simon Thanks for stopping by!

    @Nickie I'm glad I could provide you some procrastination fodder! :)

  31. Thanks for highlighting this Sue; it looks crazy awesome. I'm bookmarking this post so I can use it when I finish my project.

  32. @Charity I can't wait to see your finished work! :)


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