What words should you cut from your writing?

I’ve been working with a few-beta readers at the moment, and it has come to my attention that I use a lot of “filler” words. For example, I used “just” 11o times in 80 pages…

According to this article, words to cut from your manuscript include:

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1. Just: The word “just” is a filler word that weakens your writing. Removing it rarely affects meaning, but rather, the deletion tightens a sentence.

2. Really: Using the word “really” is an example of writing the way you talk. It’s a verbal emphasis that doesn’t translate perfectly into text. In conversation, people use the word frequently, but in written content it’s unnecessary. Think about the difference between saying a rock is “hard” and “really hard,” for example. What does the word add? Better to cut it out to make your message stronger.

3. Very: Everything that applies to “really” applies to “very.” It’s a weak word. Cut it.

4. Perhaps/maybe: Do you want your audience to think you’re uncertain about what you’re saying? When you use words like “maybe” and “perhaps,” uncertainty is exactly what you’re communicating.

5. Quite: When someone uses “quite,” he or she either means “a bit” or “completely” or “almost.” Sometimes the word adds meaning; sometimes it’s fluff. Learn to tell the difference–but, when in doubt, cut it out.

6. Amazing: The meaning of “amazing” is causing great wonder or surprise–but some writers use the word so often that the meaning gets lost. How can something be amazing if everything is? Ditch this diluted word.

7. Literally: When something is true in a literal sense, you don’t have to add the word “literally.” The only reason it makes sense to use the word is when it clarifies meaning (i.e., to explain you aren’t joking when it seems you are).

8. Stuff: Unless you are aiming at informality, don’t use the word “stuff.” It’s casual, it’s generic, and it usually stands in for something better.

9. Things: Writers use the word “things” to avoid using a clearer, more specific word that would communicate more meaning. Be specific. Don’t tell us about the “10 things,” tell us about the “10 books” or “10 strategies.” Specificity makes for better writing.

10. Got: Think of all the ways we use the vague word “got” in conversation: “I’ve got to go,” “I got a ball,” or “I got up this morning.” Though it’s fine for conversation, in writing, “got” misses valuable opportunities. Rather than writing a lazy word, look for clearer, more descriptive language: “I promised I’d leave by 9,” “I picked up a ball,” or “I woke up today,” for example.

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Do you overuse any of these words? Or are there any others you avoid using? I would definitely suggest going through your manuscript and checking to see how often you use the above words. The results might surprise you.

On a side note, my mum (being the proud mum that she is) entered me in the Best Australian Blogging Awards. So if you have a spare couple of seconds, feel free to vote for me. I’m listed as Jodie Llewellyn.

About Jodie @ Words Read & Written

Book blogger & aspiring author.
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107 Responses to What words should you cut from your writing?

  1. Michael56j says:

    Some excellent points, Jodie. However, if you are striving for informality in your writing, then where do you draw the line? This is an interesting subject for consideration.

    Like

  2. Olga Godim says:

    Great post and the suggestions in the commends. I would also add constructions like ‘he thought’, ‘she mused’, ‘he decided’, ‘she realized’ and a few others. When whatever they thought/mused/realized follows, it’s not necessary to presage it with an introductory word.

    Like

  3. Frank Fisher says:

    Good post Jodie, I think I’ll share this with my followers.

    Like

  4. sklase says:

    Good post. I’ve used “quite” a lot of these words. LOL

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  5. Good advice. I’m guilty of a lot of those crimes. (P.S. voted last week.)

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  6. To eliminate those words, consider this advice from Mark Twain: β€œSubstitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

    Like

  7. M T McGuire says:

    Excellent post and I love the quote.

    Cheers

    MTM

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  8. I catch myself using those as well. I am getting good at deleting them when proofreading. Especially just. πŸ™‚

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  9. Great advice for all of the above. Vonnegut said to cut the semicolon as well. I tried it and it’s strengthened my writing. Instead of two strong statements, you get one statement with a change in direction. It dilutes your impact.

    Like

  10. Reblogged this on The Daily 400 and commented:
    Good nuts and bolts advice on words that weaken your writing.

    Like

  11. Good post and good lesson. Thank you. I’ll continue to look further and see what else I can learn.

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  12. equinoxio21 says:

    Clemenceau, a French politician and the man who won WWI, when he was out of office had a newspaper. His recommendation when he hired a new journalist was: “Young man – no women at that time – you are going to write in my paper. I want short sentences. Subject, verb, complement. Use only very few adjectives. Adjectives are the beginning of subjectivity. And if you want to put in an adverb, call me first!” πŸ™‚
    Y’all take care!
    Brian

    Like

  13. equinoxio21 says:

    And your list of no-no’s is JUST perfect. I mean, literally, totally amazing! It’s got all the right stuf and things to avoid! πŸ™‚

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  14. equinoxio21 says:

    StufF. I mean really!

    Like

  15. Reblogged this on Strange Writer and commented:
    Filler word examples that weaken your writing. Thanks to Jodie for supplying a quick list.

    Like

  16. Good advice. I also check where I’ve used “like” and “that” and remove them if they’re not needed, or another word is more appropriate.

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  17. I definitely say these words often, though I think that the implications there are a little different. But thank you for posting this list; I will watch for them more closely. It also reminded me of two pop culture references:
    1.) http://img.pandawhale.com/64701-Robin-Williams-avoid-using-the-6MV2.png – Dead Poets Society, the “Very is a Lazy Word” speech
    2.) In Arrested Development, when the narrator says something along the lines of, “…and he was so upset that he ate a whole thing of candy beans before dinner…”

    Like

  18. barn7777 says:

    Very helpful post–I don’t know if I use these words, apart from dialogue, but I will definitely pay attention to this!

    Like

  19. joshuabertetta8306 says:

    I found this article (or something like it) early in writing my first draft–I bolded every use of these words (and more from lists like it) to get a visual on my use of them. But one thing I found too in my third draft, that use of these words is not altogether that bad–(overuse is of course, as it is with any word)–but if it fits with your character, then it fits with your character. Good luck on your search for representation–I am in the same boat.

    Like

  20. .to want you way the write should You

    Nothing should stop your desire, not people, not beta readers, just let it flow like water.

    Like

  21. writesalone says:

    Excellent advice! I’m guilty of using all of them.

    Like

  22. Bookgirl says:

    The ones that get to me are “anyway”, “like” and “then”. These are often overused.

    Like

  23. tonekinchloe says:

    I admit, I am guilty of using some of these, lol. Very informative post and greatly appreciated. Oh yea, happy earth day everyone..

    Like

  24. Even writing has to be on a diet. πŸ™‚
    P.S. I’m not receiving email notification when you post. Although I used to, and my WordPress bar says I’m following.

    Like

  25. Even writing has to be on a diet. πŸ™‚
    P.S. I’m not receiving email notification when you post. Although I used to, and my WordPress bar says I’m following.

    Like

  26. sdneeve1 says:

    I agree in some respect, but then I’m not writing literary fiction. There are enough constraints as there is, but a few choice words should not be a defining factor which makes you run to your laptop terrified you’ve used “just” or “maybe” for example, in your manuscript.
    I’m a staunch believer “that” rules are made to be broken. πŸ˜‰
    Thanks for dropping by my blog on the A to Z. πŸ™‚

    Like

  27. mgrace58 says:

    I have to say my casual writing probably contains all of those filler words; however, I swear my academic writing is way better!

    Like

  28. Nathaniel Dean James says:

    If simply asked, my answer to this question would be, about 25% of them. Which is to say, aside from certain specific words, many aspiring authors simply use too many words, period. Among the most egregious of these are those pesky adverbs, which are often a poor substitute for subtle expression, not to mention a lost opportunity to dream up a catchy little analogy.

    Like

  29. sebxiii says:

    Do you write by hand or use software ?

    Like

  30. “Like,” “That,” and “Then.” Way overused.

    Like

  31. I agree with the gist of this – those words are probably common examples of over-use. However I’d make the following qualifications: (1) they aren’t hard-and-fast rules – it’s not that you can never use any of them, obviously; (2) as your post implies, dialogue is an exception – your characters may well use extraneous, lazy or cliched words, and indeed their use may well help define those characters; and (3) occasionally one of those words may actually communicate exaclty what you want – e.g. perhaps/maybe. But occasionally is, I guess, the operative word.

    The golden rule, as I see it, is to be as economical as possible in your usse of words, with neach one needing to justify its inclusion – and if you can cut it easily, you probably should. Also, avoid cliched, lazy descriptions when something more specific and original would be better.

    But don’t sweat too much if extraneous words turn up in your first draft. That’s what editing is for! As long as you know what to look for, that’s the main thing.

    Having said, that, I should probably now re-audit some of my own writing for some of these …

    Like

  32. Apparently, I used the phrases “says shortly” and “says flatly” a lot. I’m going through and trying to convey tone in a better way, but it is so hard. I don’t want to add another 1000 words just to make sure everyone knows my MC speaks emotionless a lot! Another is maybe, but that’s actually part of her voice and I only use it when she’s hypothesizing about something.

    Like

  33. This is a good list, although I must object to ‘things’–I enjoy the indignity of calling a thing a thing. Apparently in Germany (I don’t speak German) they call property law ‘the law of things’, which is oddly charming to my ears at least. But agree: it must be used properly.

    One word I’d add to your list is ‘suddenly’. It doesn’t make anything seem any more sudden!

    Like

  34. davemstrom says:

    Stephen had entertaining advice about adverbs in his book “On Writing.” He showed an example with and said, now take it out. Now, don’t you feel better?

    Even in my comic book style of writing, where I the author awesomely alliterate (thinking of Stan Lee), I still pick adverbs and adjectives carefully, and even a bit sparingly. You are almost always better off finding a stronger noun and verb.

    Like

  35. It’s all true and I think many of us violate these unspoken rules. I know I do.

    Like

  36. cathyjing99 says:

    I love this! Thank you so much for sharing. πŸ™‚

    Like

  37. frayboy says:

    Interesting… although I think I quite happily break all of the rules. I’ll definitely take it on board though.

    p.s. I voted

    Like

  38. sjoycarlson says:

    Literally going to do a search through my MS right now on these words. :PI never even thought of that, but they are totally like filler words! πŸ˜› I got dinged by a beta reader for excessive use of color words, and boring ones at that. I’ve been cutting some and trying to turn some into YA-appropriate similes and metaphors. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  39. Lisa Thomson says:

    I’d add Suddenly, Slightly, and Vaguely. Thank god for find and replace.

    Like

  40. Ray Yanek says:

    Great stuff…I must (almost used ‘Got to’, so thanks for saving me!) find more time to return (almost used ‘get’…) here! Seriously, I need to do that. Lots to learn here.

    Like

  41. j1m says:

    Perhaps. But isn’t that one of the quite amazing but very difficult things about dialogue? If you’re on top of your stuff, don’t you want your characters to literally sound just like they really do if you got to meet them in person?

    πŸ™‚

    Like

  42. j1m says:

    Perhaps. But isn’t that one of the quite amazing but very difficult things about dialogue? If you’re on top of your stuff, don’t you want your characters to literally sound just like they really do if you got to meet them in person?

    πŸ™‚

    Like

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