45 Invisible Pests That Stunt Good Writing

Before you submit your final draft to your magazine or book editor, here’s a surprising little exercise that can eliminate the wordiness and repetitiveness you can’t see.

This simple self-check can also save you time and money if you’re under deadline or paying your own editorial bills.

Search your document for the words it and there. These pronouns generally precede is, are and was, the present or past tenses of verb to be. Shakespeare’s tragic Prince Hamlet immortalized to be as our all-time favorite verb but, just as tragically, using it as your default verb can work against your writing.

How many times did it, there, is, are and was appear in your draft? How many were you able to change to descriptive nouns and active verbs? A little polish goes a long way to brighten dull passages. Now you have a tip on where to find them.

Everyday words and phrases are often the culprits that stunt good writing. The words and phrases below fall into two categories: vague and wordy.

Are these pesky little darlings in your writing? Visualize what you mean to say, what you see in your mind’s eye. Replace empty words with specific details and actions. 

All (all these people) Handsome Other (other stuff)
Also Happy Pretty
Always Hopefully Probably
Anyway/anyways Interest/interesting Some/Sometimes
As you can imagine Just Sort of
Beautiful Like Still
Even Maybe Sure (I’m sure I would have)
Evidently Nice Tell (She could tell that he)
Excitement No matter (No matter how much he) That
Fantastic OK There/there’s
Few Only Think (I just think that)

Find your fillers.  Eliminate expletives with the verb to be:

  • There are many people who like to > Many people like to 
  • This is another reason why we > Another reason we
  • All they need to do to find X is > They find X by
  • It isn’t that X is a poor choice > Rather than X, Y allows 
  • It was a matter of me > I needed to 

 Restrict usage of verbs that stall the action:

  • It also became apparent to the group that he had > The group discovered that he
  • They were excited to see that she jumped off the diving board > She jumped. They cheered.
  • It felt like he was hiding the truth> He hid the truth
  • I found him to have > He had 
  • They both hoped that they would find the time to meet > They wanted to meet 
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