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From the editor's desk: 5 words to cut from your rough draft

Finished the first full draft of your story or—whoa!—novel? Good for you! Go celebrate. When you’re through, come on back, it’s editing time. We’ll wait. Ah, editing. It hurts to remove words from your baby, but trust us, it makes your writing so much stronger. Here are five words you can almost always excise from your writing without losing an iota of meaning.

 

“that”

Do a “find” search in your word processor and see how many times you use this word—we bet it’s way more than you’d think. And chances are, you don’t have to use it 75 percent of the time. Here’s your test: For every single occurrence of “that” in your writing, try reading it to yourself and saying it out loud, first the way it is, and then without the “that.” If it sounds fine without it, you’re probably not losing anything grammatically. Delete!

 

“just”

This is an intensifier we tend to use quite often in everyday language (see what I did there? “Quite” is one, too). The thing is, the more frequently you use it, the less strength it has. It’s fine to use “just” when you really mean it, but chances are, you don’t need it every time you used it in your rough draft. Go through the entire doc with the “find” function and delete those occurrences that don’t gain anything from its use.

 

“only”

Yup, another intensifier. If you really mean “only,” you should only say it once or twice. It’s a special word, so sprinkle it sparingly into your copy.

 

“very”

Another intensifier, you say? You hit the nail on the end! We use “very” so much, it means just about nothing. Consider this: If I write, “Bob ran fast,” you believe me, right? Great. How much faster is Bob running if I write, “Bob ran very fast”? Talk about vague. Instead of using “very,” think about what you really want to say. Are Bob’s eyes very blue, or are they the exact shade of a Robin’s egg? Is his room very messy, or is more fair to say it’s a pig sty rather than a boy’s room? Chances are you’re using “very” as a crutch, and it’s keeping your descriptions from reaching their full potential. Every time you see it, use it as a chance to replace that one intensifier with a more apt descriptor.

 

“so”

It is so, so easy to start every single sentence with “so.” Trust us, we’ve tried. Oftentimes, though, it serves as a bridge between one thought and the next, hiding the fact that the previous sentence and the one that follows it aren’t connected and don’t belong in the same paragraph at all. And if they do, well, just delete the “so.” See? It’s as easy as that.

 

What word is your downfall, darlins? Tell us in the comments!

published May 08, 2014
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