That, Just, Really, Rather, Perhaps, Wonder, Then, Up, Down, and Quite
After finishing my latest manuscript, I went on a hunt for overused words. Just, that, and then find their way into my writing as easily as pine needles find their way to my carpet. (I live in the Pacific Northwest.)
If all the needless words were omitted from this sentence: “I really just wonder that perhaps if I sit my butt down in my rather comfy chair and not leap up every time the phone rings, I’d get more writing done,” it would be a much tighter sentence. This example is an exaggeration; even novice writers wouldn’t create such a mess.
Here it is minus these ten words: “If I sit my butt in my comfy chair and leap every time the phone rings, I’d get more writing done.” This sentence is concise.
Five words were removed from the beginning (really, just, wonder, that, perhaps) and replaced with “if.” “Rather” was also removed. My chair is comfy—period. But now that I think about it, I’d also delete “comfy.” You don’t want to be too relaxed, or your face might end up on your keyboard. “Up,” was removed because in what other direction would you leap from a chair? (I guess you could leap down from a chair if you were standing on it, but that’s not the case.)
In the following sentences one word was omitted from the titled list. You’ll find it is not missed.
1. Did you think that I would leave you stranded in the woods alone? (If you remove that, the sentence is still correct.)
2. My kayak was sinking and I just had to get ahold of myself. (Just causes a pause and removes the tension from the action.)
3. I really like adding jalapeños to my banana and peanut butter sandwich. (Sometimes really can sound pleading. If you like this food combination, don’t worry about convincing anyone, claim your preference and enjoy it.)
4. I ate the entire plate of nachos and now I feel rather stuffed. (Stuffed is stuffed, as in not possible to fit any more food into your stomach—ditch rather.)
5. Perhaps if I tried to concentrate harder, I’d finish my manuscript sooner. (There’s no “perhaps” about it.)
6. I turned on my heel, then slammed the door in his face, then later wished I hadn’t been so hostile. (Adding then several times makes the sentence sound like a six-year old wrote it.) Instead: I turned on my heel, slammed the door in his face, and later wished I hadn’t been so hostile.
7. My heart leapt up when I received a call from Publishers’ Clearing House. (Omit up; again, how else can one’s heart leap?)
8. I sat my empty beer mug down on the bar. (Down can be removed. You couldn’t set a mug up on a bar unless you were a very short person.)
9. “We’re not quite there yet,” uses two words meaning the same thing: quite and yet. “Yet” indicates a farther distance is necessary. Remove “quite.” “We’re not there yet” is clear enough.
10. I wonder if you would remove your dog’s teeth from my ankle? (Does one have to wonder about this? Dog teeth were embedded in your ankle doesn’t warrant a wishy-washy request. In fact, the first five words can go—begin with “Remove” and conclude with an exclamation point.)
These ten words are necessary in a few instances, but take care not to overuse them.
Kathleen Kaska, Marketing Director
I’m often asked this question when I give presentations or teach writing classes. Should it be family, friends, critique groups, beta readers, contest judges, or copy editors/proofreaders? My answer is all those, and in that order. You can never have too many readers.
My three sisters like to read my manuscripts. They are wonderful, intelligent women who love me, and are great at making me feel that they love my writing too. But they also correct my grammar and pay attention to plot details.
My friends are nice, supportive, and are willing to help me out as long as I don’t abuse their time. Friends and family like mine can bolster one’s ego as a writer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But let’s face it, even after the grammar corrections, we tend to focus more on gushing accolades—at least I do—whereas in truth, there are always more changes to be considered.
Members of my critique group are my most important readers. They read my work as it is proceeding and again upon completion. They are talented writers who scrutinize every word, sentence, and paragraph—even the names of my characters. They know my weaknesses and gracefully point them out. Their criticism is always on the mark.
After my manuscript has been thus corrected and polished, I’m ready to send it to a beta reader (a non-professional reader who reads for content and grammatical errors). It’s a good idea to choose someone who is also a writer whom you don’t know personally or very well. I always look for someone who hasn’t yet read any of my writing so there are no expectations. A beta reader can be a member of a writers’ organization you belong to. Since reading a manuscript and making notes is time consuming, I barter by offering to do the same in return.
It’s also a good idea to submit your manuscript to contests. Even if you don’t win, you’ll receive at least one or more evaluations, just for the price of a small entry fee.
If you’re an unpublished author, or moving to a genre that is new to you, it’s worth the time and money to have a professional copy editor or proofreader read, edit, and critique your work. Be cautious when selecting one. Ask for references and get the details up front. State specifically what you want done. I recommend a complete, substantive critique. Most allow you to send them the first ten pages for a preview of what’s to come and how much it will cost.
Finally, who should not read your manuscript? Anyone who doesn’t read much. You’d be surprised how often people at book shows or promotion events tell me they don’t like to read. So if someone doesn’t want to read your work, don’t twist arms. You’ll easily find enough willing readers elsewhere.
Kathleen Kaska Marketing Director