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”

Writers Gotta Write (about something)

I always have something to say. (Just ask my husband.)

This is usually true about writing, also. I always have something to write about, but oddly, not today.

Today the distractions have me and my tired-I-didn’t-sleep-so-well mind.

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This blog is about writing and the writer’s life. Obviously, there is much that could be said about that, but….

The internet is smothered in writing wisdom. It is everywhere because, well, writers write.

It’s not like horseshoers or knitters or firemen. Continue reading “Writers Gotta Write (about something)”

I know that place, I’ve been there too

For whatever reason, I’ve been running into a lot of frustration lately.

I’m not the frustrated one, nope, I’m in a good place (for now). But a lot of the writers I know have recently shared their own head-banging-the-wall moments.

I know that place; I’ve been there. It’s part and parcel of being a writer, heck with being a person, really.

There are days, hours, okay maybe even weeks and months, but hopefully not years, when you feel as though all this slogging through the mud is getting you nowhere. No one, not even the dog, seems to appreciate your efforts. And let’s face it, basically, you suck at this. Continue reading “I know that place, I’ve been there too”

Changing the World Over Donuts

Last Friday I had the great pleasure of speaking to 4th and 5th graders at an Elementary School in Maryland.

It was crazy fun and went by in a flash. I met with ten different small groups for only ten minutes each session, which was never enough time. I wasn’t quite sure I had something to say, but those kids sure had plenty. I loved hearing what they are reading and writing and I enjoyed answering their excellent questions.

I tried very hard to leave them with the message that words are powerful. Their words can change minds and hearts and they are here long after we are gone.

I went home with a smile on my face and hope in my heart. I wish I could visit with elementary age kids more often; they are certainly good for the soul.

Tomorrow I will have the opportunity to meet with another local group. This time it’s the Rotary Club.

I wasn’t too worried about it until I looked up what the Rotary Club is. For some reason, I thought they were the old guys who zoom around on their scooters in the Mummers parade.

bikes in parades

Turns out, they’re not. They’re actually a group of business and professional men and women who to meet to talk about how they can help this world. They’re a service organization.

So now I’m pretty intimidated. I’m not sure I have anything to offer them beyond my story. Which isn’t really helping the world. At least not directly. Hopefully, my stories help entertain and maybe even inspire, but world changing? Probably not.

Like the elementary school kids, these folks are busy, so the meeting is brief. It starts long before those elementary kids are even on their buses, includes breakfast, and finishes up in a neat hour. The friend who invited me to come speak said they’d just like to hear my publishing story. That story is a long and winding road that changes every time I tell it.

long and winding road

It’s not that I’m embellishing with the glint of history, it’s just that I always try to condense it and I’m never quite sure if I get my cliff notes right.

What to include, what not to include? There have been so many false starts and pointless tangents. Because how do we know what really influences our journeys? Was it the word of a wise editor or the nudge of a trusted friend? Maybe it was a comment from a stranger or the doubt of a family member.

I freely admit, I did not always make the wisest choices as I followed my heart to where I am now, but I think it’s mightily better to follow your heart than the crowd.

Reflecting on the influences upon my own story, I can’t help but picture the eager faces I encountered last Friday. I hope that the words I said and the answers I gave are little seeds planted in those kiddos that will someday help them know the power of their own voices.

And tomorrow?

I don’t know what I’ll say, or if any of it will be of consequence, but I’ll offer it up straight from my heart and hope it helps make the world a little better.

Or at least entertains some mighty impressive people over donuts.

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.

 

Changing the World

I have a speaking engagement coming up tomorrow in front of a tough audience.

Elementary school students.

It’s Career Day and I was invited to an Elementary School in Maryland, along with lots of people who likely have much more exciting careers than mine. I’ll have just 10 minutes per group to talk about what I do and answer questions.

I’m in a quandary about what I should tell them.

Writing is pretty boring. At least the act of it.

Unless you’re inside my brain, I appear awfully sedentary. Most days I bore my office mates to sleep.

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So, what should I tell the kids?

Obviously, they’ll find my dog writing much more interesting than my women’s fiction writing or my occasional freelance pieces about parenting or organics or writing. They probably know more than me about marketing yourself via social media. And I’m pretty sure that talking about the largest part of my writing day – editing – would bore the life out of them, as it does me.

My tentative plan is to dazzle them with the dogs. I’ve even printed out a few 8x10s of some of my more exciting foster dogs to flash them.

My biggest dog- Whoopi. Continue reading “Changing the World”

Lacking Inspiration?

Feeling inspired?

No?

You’re surrounded by inspiration, as ever-present as the air you breathe.

Okay, sometimes you have to reach further to find it, but it’s there, believe me.  All you need is an open mind, a little creativity, and a good analogy.

Okay, maybe the analogy doesn’t have to be that good.

Glancing around my workspace, I can see a pencil sharpener. That pencil sharpener is like me working on my latest manuscript  – I carve and twist and sharpen my point to perfection, but really, will anybody need that pencil? Nobody uses pencils anymore.

Depressing? Yeah, kind of.

Here’s an even more depressing one from PG Wodehouse:

“It has been well said that an author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.”

Do you suppose he was looking out the window at his garden when he came up with that one or maybe there was a brochure for the grand canyon on his desk?

Maybe you read that and thought, who thinks like that?

I would assert – anyone and everyone.

You, for instance.

You are surrounded by potential analogies. They’re everywhere.

My oldest child is a creative soul. This made him both a pleasure and a pain to raise.

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He is also smart. His standardized test scores came in very high in every area, except one.

Analogies.

These questions he would miss with alarming regularity. The problem was that he could always see two sides of everything.

analogies

He could absolutely understand how a bear could live in a hotel or a table could be used to sleep or a car is part of a kitchen or that something that is right is very wrong.

Look around you.

What does that lamp look like? A snake? A butter churn? An alien?

How could whether or not you made your bed this morning be an analogy for how you live your life?

What about your dog? Is he living the life he always wanted or is he a prisoner in a foreign land who has adapted well?

The truck rattling down the street — where is it going? What is it carrying? What has it seen? Who’s trapped inside? Did it runover the walnuts covering the street, the sound of the shells cracking like bullets exploding?

There is inspiration all around you, free for the taking.

inspiration

My cat has been slowly destroying my laptop. Whenever I leave it open, she nests on it. Her relentless plucking has removed key after key, her efforts so thorough most are unable to be snapped back on. This week she tore off the control key. I’m annoyed with her, but I’m sure there’s an essay in there. (I’ve lost my control….)

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Being open to possibility is the first step to discovering inspiration.

Sometimes when I’m journaling and can’t think of what to write, I’ll open a nearby book and randomly place my finger on a word or line. Then I’ll either continue the sentence or write about what that word or line brings to my mind. Other times I’ll look out the window and see what first catches my eye and explore why.

You can find inspiration on billboards, click bait, cereal packaging, or sales circulars. You can find it in the dirty laundry on the floor or the gunk in the sink drainer or the sarcasm in your teenager’s remark. There are analogies to be had in being late because the cat threw up or being lost when your GPS fails you.

Inspiration is everywhere. The place is lousy with it.

Breathe it in, and see where it takes your mind.

Need a chuckle? Check out these hilarious analogies written by high school students.

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.