As a last step before sending my novel off for a round of beta reads, I went through and cleansed the text of over-used words and phrases, useless filler words, and verbal tics.
My next pass through I searched for “started to,” and “began to.”
Then I went for my own personal verbal tics – my characters are constantly shrugging, sighing, nodding, smiling, and laughing. And, oh… the eyes. Their eyes are constantly meeting, looking away, glancing around, widening or narrowing.
When finished, my manuscript is about 2000 words slimmer and I learned – there were very few sentences that changed meaning without all the sighing, laughing, shrugging, smiling, and nodding, and I could almost always remove or rewrite the references to eyes without impacting the meaning either.
Am I done with sighing, laughing and nodding? Probably not, and my characters eyes will probably continue to widen and narrow frequently! But at least I know where to start when I want to cut words!