Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writer, edit thyself

Why can’t we write well the first time? There must be some sort of disconnect between what we want to write, and what we actually write, because what sounds good in our brains often shows up on the page as something not-quite-as-wonderful. Last month I gave a presentation on editing at the Ozarks Writers League. I don’t have the space here to include everything I covered, but will concentrate on deleting unnecessary words to strengthen your writing.  
Delete words placed before adjectives and adverbs that attempt to intensify an effect, but accomplish just the opposite. Words like very, so, quite, extremely, really, and absolutely. We're very hungry. Thank you so much. The spaghetti was extremely good, etc. (I used the word “so” four times in the last paragraph before editing. Even as I’m writing about what not to do, I’m still making those errors!)
According to, a qualifier is a word or phrase that precedes an adjective or adverb, increasing or decreasing the quality signified by the word it modifies (adverbs of degree). Common qualifiers include (though some of these words have other functions as well, and overlap into the intensifiers category): completely, quite, rather, somewhat, more, most, less, least, too, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, fairly, really, pretty, even, a bit, a little, a (whole) lot, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of.
I “just” like it
If there were a competition, I would win the “Most Use of the word ‘Just’ in Writing” award. I don’t know what it is about that word, but I just like it. I just can’t help myself. I wish it were easy, but I just can’t stop using it. It’s just a bad habit, and I just wish it would go away.
If you have favorite words like “just,” and “so,” that you overuse, “search” for those words when you’re editing, and delete them. 
There is always a more specific word for "thing" or "things." Dr. Seuss is the only one who can get away with it.
“Cousin It”

Be specific. Name the "it." One of the professors on my thesis committee hated sentences that began with the word “it.” I look for them in my writing, and can’t say I delete of all of them, but I can rewrite most of the sentences to make them stronger.
Like all writing there are exceptions to every rule. This last one, especially, because of the power of the first sentence in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … “. I’m glad my professor didn’t get a hold of that sentence because she probably would have ruined it!
Write soon,


  1. Mary--As usual, your post is full of great advice AND it's served up with a spoonful of humor. Thanks.

  2. Great advice, nice post, thanks for sharing!