In writing, every word counts. Yet often we as writers waste words. We fail to say exactly what we mean. We fill space. We dance around the point and fail to find the exact word we need to describe the scene. Sometimes polishing your prose takes hours of revision but other times the removal of simple words can make a huge difference.

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Four Word Killing Your Prose

1. So

Come on, you're a writer. Be more descriptive.

Don't say she was so pretty. Say she was gorgeous.

2. Very

Just like “so,” you can be more descriptive. I know you can. “Very” is a crutch. It's a clue that you're not being precise.

The room was very quiet.

The room was silent.

3. Just

We know something just happened. If it happened 30 years ago, you'd tell us. Otherwise we'll assume it just happened.

4. That

Sometimes “that” is necessary (like in the title of this post). Every time you use “that” take a good look at the sentence and decide if it's vital. Normally, it's not.

What other often-unnecessary words would you add to this list?


Pick a piece you've already written and spend fifteen minutes tightening your prose. When you're done, post both the first and the final draft in the comments section and comment on a few other practitioners.

Katie Axelson is a writer, editor, and blogger who's seeking to live a story worth telling. You can find her blogging, tweeting, and facebook-ing.

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