That was embarrassing.
I had a friend return some chapters of my story this week for a critique. He was kind and thought the overall flow and trajectory of the story was good. He had some comments on point-of-view, sentence structure, and details like that. He also had one comment that was worth its weight in gold for my writing.
"You use the word 'little'" a lot."
He circled several instances where I had done this. Nothing more needed to be said there. I realized that my diplomatic nature was kicking in, and I have a bad habit of pulling back from saying something strongly by adding qualifiers such as seems, little, possibly, etc.
I knew I'd better search my whole project for "little". Ctrl-F is a good friend to a writer.
But this was a "little" ridiculous.
I had four or five instances of "little" on each page, it seemed. Not only that, it usually did nothing but water down my writing by pulling back the force of the words. "She was getting a little more used to the pace." "He couldn't help a little grin."
What does a weak word like "little" add to a novel? NOTHING. I won't pull back here. Certainly it has a place. My main character is the younger sister, so sometimes she is fighting against the "little" sister stereotype.
My advice then is this: look for those words you run to to fill space. We all have our pets. I can't believe how many times I have read over some of these chapters, and "little" has never caught my eye. Also, make sure you use strong words and don't be afraid to say something. It is almost a nervous tic for me to soft-pedal, and I hate it sometimes. So check your writing with an eagle eye. Have someone else read it to help you find those blind spots. And don't go weak on your description. Be bold, use the right word for the right situation, and don't even give in to temptation a little!