Tighten up: Nine words that weaken you writing

Some words are weak. Plain and simple. These words not only water-down your writing but mark you as a lazy writer.

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In the frenzy of a first draft, we toss in these words because there isn’t time to create the perfect metaphor. The story is flying fast and furious and you just need to get the words on the page, darn it. You’ll come up with the right simile or example or label or description later. When you have time. (But who has time?)

Before you know it these words have crept in and claimed their spot like the extra pounds you put on every winter. The rest of the story is so stellar, what’s an occasional weak word?

Editing makes or breaks a piece of writing. Truth.

Search out these words and replace them with more powerful words—words that help the reader see, sense, taste, touch, smell, hear what you’re trying to say. Words that create a clear picture or definite emotion. Strong words.

So what are these words that clutter up your writing?

I’ve listed nine, but there are others. A few adverbs come to mind. Personally, I love adverbs, so I’m not taking shots at them here. The words I’m going after are worse than a clever adverb. These are words that undermine the structure of your prose. Fire up that find feature and I bet you’ll spot your personal favorites in minutes.

Thing. What is it? Animal, vegetable, mineral? Could be. Thing is the vaguest of words out there. Don’t be a lazy writer—name it.

Stuff. Another horribly weak word. What does it mean? Could be anything. Stuff leaves way too much to the imagination. Be specific.

Seem. This is one of my pet words. Seem lets you hedge your bets. It only seems that way, so don’t blame me, I could be wrong. Seem dilutes the power of the word it precedes, and powerful words are so much more interesting to the reader. Go for broke. Either it is or it isn’t, and if you’re convinced it’s somewhere in between, describe why instead of taking the cheater’s route.

That. This one is tough for most of us but read your sentence with the word and without it. If you can cut it, then do.

With: I knew that she would stop by at five.

Without: I knew she would stop by at five.

Felt.  Unless we’re talking about that fuzzy material you used for craft projects in elementary school, avoid this word. If you’re telling the reader how the character felt, you’re not showing them. Find another way.

Cheating: She felt like he hated her.

Not that great, but better: His eyes grew dark as they met hers; it sent a shiver down her spine.

Think/Thought. When writing a character’s thoughts, you can almost always drop the intro. In general, most observations are attributed to your narrator. So unless you’re writing in third person omniscient (and you really shouldn’t), you don’t need to tell the reader the thoughts belong to the character, you can show them by the way you say it or by using italics. Either way, you take out the clunky he thought that slows down the story.

She thought it would take an elephant to move that box.

It would take an elephant to move that box.

The door opened and she thought she saw the woman from the night before sitting at the bar.

The door opened. The woman from the night before sat at the bar.

Walked. Sure it’s fine. We all walk, but how boring is that when a character can strut, stumble, amble, or stroll? Don’t miss an opportunity to say so much with just one word. You cheat yourself when your characters simply walk.

Geraldine walked up the sidewalk.

Geraldine marched up the sidewalk.

Kind of or Sort of. Once again, make a decision. Either it is or it isn’t. I’ve been guilty of using both these phrases, but when I’ve done it, it’s because that’s the way the character speaks. If you aren’t writing as a teenager or timid person than cut them out.

Then. Okay, maybe there’s a time and place for then, but it’s intrinsically weak. It sounds weak. It sounds like a second grader writing their first essay. The cat ran in, then the dog did. Then the mouse did. Then I did….You can do better. You can write better.

None of these nine words/phrases are inherently evil, but if your writing is littered with them, you may want to take a closer look. Weak words water down your writing. They make your prose vague and wishy-washy.  Mealy-mouthed, even. And you wouldn’t want to be mealy-mouthed now would you?

Then people might think that your stuff seems kind of amateur, and that sort of thing can make you feel like walking away from it all.

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.

Honored,

Cara

If you’d like to know more about me, my books, and where you might run into me, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

COMING AUGUST 2018 FROM Pegasus Books (available for preorder now:

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Just Found My Suspenders

I am hard at work on yet another re-write of a manuscript that I have been working on now for almost eight years.

Enough already.

You would think, wouldn’t you?

And yet I can’t give up.

When my agent tossed the latest re-write back at me insisting it needed yet another overhaul, I was crushed. Continue reading “Just Found My Suspenders”

YOU Can Have Perfect Grammar Too!

Grammar has never been my thing.

I loved diagramming sentences in middle school, but the finer details have always escaped me.

I suppose that’s par for the course as I also have a tendency to skip directions, skim long descriptions in novels, and not put the last book/cup/stray sock in its place. When I weed a garden, a bucketful of weeds usually linger beside the garden long enough to kill the grass beneath it.

I’m an idea person.

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So, the bigger grammatical elements I can handle; it’s the nitpicky stuff that trips me up.

Which is why my favorite person in the publishing process is the copy editor. The copy editor keeps me from sounding like I barely passed sixth grade English.

I recently received the proof for my book that’s coming out in August and there were over 400 marks on it. (YES, that’s a lot, even for me.)

And yes, the book had already been copyedited. The proofreader, though, seems to be a zealous person. A nit-picker of nit-pickers, which, I suppose you want in a proofreader.

Many of the nits she was picking pertained to my voice, so my editor and I decided we’d stet most of her marks, which is a fancy way of saying we’d ignore them. (stet= Latin for ‘let it stand’)

Many more of the marks were additional commas she’d added to make my overly long sentences clearer. Okay, maybe.

I’ve spent the better part of my week considering those commas. I’m only more confused, but at least Frankie has finally realized I’m not talking to him as I read sentence after sentence out loud with and without a comma. He no longer jumps off the futon in hopes of a treat each time he hears my voice.

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The marks that pushed me over the edge, though, are the commas placed before the word ‘too.’

Everywhere the word appeared, the proofreader had inserted a comma preceding it.

For example-

I spent the entire day learning about commas, too.

Until a month ago, I had always put a comma before the word too, too.

But during the copy editing process, the copy editor had removed all my commas proceeding the word too at the end of a sentence. When I saw that, I thought—wait, wait, I don’t know much about grammar, but I KNOW there should be a comma before the word too!

A little research turned up the cold, hard, truth – my middle school English teacher was wrong.

That. Rocked. My. World.

Do you know how many times I’ve written a comma before the word too incorrectly? Do you know how many times that incorrect comma has been published?

Now, here was this proofreader reinserting every comma the copy editor had removed.

AGH! Who to trust? I posed the question to my editor and she said, The copy editor.

To prevent you from ever losing sleep over the use of a comma before the word too, let me set the record straight:

From no less than Grammarly, my go-to and permanently installed editor (which is a FREE Chrome extension- YOU should download it now!):

When using the word too, you only need to use a comma before it for emphasis. According to The Chicago Manual of Style, a comma before too should be used only to note an abrupt shift in thought. When too comes in the middle of a sentence, emphasis is almost always intended since it interrupts the natural flow of the sentence.

I, too, like bananas.

When a too comes at the end of a sentence, however, a comma is almost never needed.

I like bananas too.

So, now you know.

Always trust the copyeditor.

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.

Honored,

Cara

If you’d like to know more about me, my books, and where you might run into me, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

COMING AUGUST 2018 FROM Pegasus Books (available for preorder now):

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Enough of That

Cut how many words?

The last few weeks have been a blur of editing. For me, editing is the worst part of being a writer. Also, it’s how you spend half of your time as a writer (the other parts are 10% writing and 40% promoting). Sigh.

I sat down with my current WIP and began slashing. My agent suggested I cut nearly ten thousand words. I was sincere in my effort and after letting go of my initial instinct to fight for every word, I discovered the story was cleaner and clearer once I unloaded 9,000 words.

After weighing every word and questioning every sentence, I was still coming up short. I figured if I could just get rid of another five hundred, I’d be golden. I mean, nearly 10,000 is pretty much 10,000, right?

I couldn’t bring myself to comb through the manuscript again, so I employed my favorite writing tool – the find feature. Now, which words could I cut that wouldn’t affect the story? Continue reading “Enough of That”

Inner Supreme Court

I read a post recently by another writer I much admire and in it she used the phrase, “Inner Supreme Court.”

I recently received an opinion that brought that clever phrase to life. And I’ve realized that the decision to accept or reject it is mine to make. If only it were that simple.

When it comes to any decision — about writing or life — you have to trust your Inner Supreme Court. You can get lots of opinions and recommendations. You can listen to other people’s experiences and warnings. You can indulge possibilities and dreams, but ultimately when it’s time to decide you have to trust that only your Inner Supreme Court knows what is best for you.

I’ve been trying this particular case in my court all week. The case involves a huge re-write of a novel I’ve been polishing for over five years. I’m anxious to bring this story to light. I think it is ready. I think it has an important and timely message, but my agent wants me to gut out yet another re-write.

So, I’ve been gathering opinions, reading genre definitions (since this is the reason for the re-write), and taking long walks with my foster dog who is recovering from a broken jaw (thanks to a misunderstanding with one of my horses).

Sometimes I’m indignant.

My beta readers love this story! I’ve already put more than a thousand hours into it. These characters are my friends. I know them inside and out. What if she’s wrong?

Sometimes I’m self-flagellating.

I suck at this. I cannot write. I should shelve it and take a class and learn to write. I should plant blueberries all over the pasture, kick the horses out, and start a pick-and-pay business.

Sometimes I present evidence.

So-and-so read it, and says this will be the book. The one that makes the NYT bestseller list. I’ve mapped this book, edited it within an inch of its life. I’ve probably cut as many words as I’ve written. I’ve changed names, settings, killed my darlings, and read it out loud. It’s good. It’s really good.

And sometimes I try to see the side of the prosecution.

Maybe she has a point. Maybe there’s more story buried here underneath the overly polished surface. Maybe I just need to dig deeper. Maybe I need to set my ego and impatience aside.

For now, the justices are still hearing testimony. No decision has been made. And the court just might recess for the fourth of July holiday and spend some much needed downtime with the latest batch of foster puppies driving me to distraction.

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But soon enough, it will be time to make that decision. I’ll stop asking for advice and sympathy and more time.

As a writer it’s much too easy to see all the sides. But deep down, when I finally close the door of my courtroom, I do trust that my own Inner Supreme Court has been listening and taking all the testimony into account, and while they might not be in complete agreement, they will make the right decision.

And I’ve gotta trust that.

And maybe trust is the hardest part. As usual.

Sigh.

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to know more about my writing and books, check out CaraWrites.com

If you’d like to know more about life with foster puppies, visit my blog Another Good Dog.

Have a wonderful holiday and trust your Inner Supreme Court!

Blessings,

Cara

p.s. Great thanks to Kathryn Craft for the phrase that inspired this post. (Check out her wonderful books!)

Writing Doldrums

I’m in the doldrums.

I’ve polished my manuscript until parts seemed to be wearing through and it began to feel like I was rearranging furniture. Now it’s safely languishing in my agent’s TBR pile. Even as it’s tempting to go back in there and fiddle, I’m staying out of that world. Jem and Liz and Jake and Fish and Coach are safe from my meddling fingers.

My other novel-in-progress is marinating. Marinating is what I call the time between edits. It’s very hard to be objective and see your story clearly unless you leave it lie for at least a few weeks between edits. Otherwise, it’s like trying find anything on a map on your phone—you’re too close to see anything in perspective. Which means I have to leave Kat and Dylan and Pilgrim and Gwen alone to work their problems out, at least for a little while.

So, no fiction. Which isn’t easy for me.

Instead, I’m working on guest blog posts for my upcoming blog tour for Practicing Normal (which comes out June 6!!) and mostly coming up blank. Plus, I’m putting way too much time into blog posts for my dog blog. And still my writing energies are stopped up.

I’ve become so desperate I’m thinking of trying my hand at a short story (again). I’ve never written a decent short story.  Every short story I’ve ever attempted either turned into a novel or landed in my ‘crap I wrote’ folder to languish for all eternity. But you never know, maybe this time I’ll figure out the genre. Either that, or I’ll have a good start on my next novel.

Writing is not a job for the unmotivated. There is no boss telling me what to do, although, true confession, I kinda wish I had a boss telling me what to do. If I had a boss and a specific job description, then I’d know when I was finished a job (plus I might have benefits and overtime and paid vacation). Instead, writing work is endless, spiraling into the land of all-the-ways-to-waste-productive-time-productively. Blogging, for instance. Writing this post is not required of me. And yet, here I am, musing on nothing much. Wasting time, really, but productively because if nothing else I’m honing my craft.

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And that’s just it. If you’re gonna be a writer, ya gotta write.

Every day.

Even if it’s just a journal entry or an email to a friend. Slap those words down, one after the other. Do that long enough and eventually you hit on a few good combinations.

That said, I’m gonna head out to the wilds and do some short story wrangling. (Can you tell my short story will involve horses? And maybe cowboys. Hmmm….) I’m toying with pasting the beginnings of that story right here on the blog, if for no other reason than to hold myself accountable. So watch for installment number one next week.

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What are you writing? Anything good? Well, I hope at least your writing is humming.

Have a great Thursday and thanks for reading!

If you’d like to know more about my stories and blogs, please visit CaraWrites.com. If you’d like to catch up on all my adventures, subscribe to my (occasional) newsletter.