25 March 2013 - 1:24 pm

Just: a Bugbear

He may be cute, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't stamp him out. (Based on the Kingdom of Loathing bugbears)

He may be cute, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stamp him out.
(Based on the Kingdom of Loathing bugbears)

Every now and then, I notice a habit in my writing that I don’t like and I try to stamp it out. Because I write a web serial (on the fly), I’m in a constant writing and editing cycle. I’m always looking at my work critically. Sometimes this leads to blindness when it comes to habits. Other times, I notice patterns forming, good and bad.

I always seek to improve my writing, so I make an effort to challenge my habits. I don’t want to fall into a rut and I like to try new things. Keep my writing fresh; that sort of thing.

In particular, I aim to crush bad habits. I have a mental list of things that I keep an eye out for when I’m re-reading a piece. Like extraneous commas, because I know I have a tendency to put them in when I pause for thought when I’m writing and they don’t always suit the flow of reading. The other thing I keep an eye out for is words that I tend to overuse.

Lately, ‘just’ seems to be the word that’s grabbing my attention a lot. It used to be ‘that’ – often, I’ve found ‘that’ can be removed from a sentence, because it’s more of a vocal habit than a word actually required for the sentence. Apparently, I’ve moved on to putting ‘just’ into random places.

It’s just a little weird. And usually it’s just unnecessary. It adds little to a sentence and the meaning is often clearer without it. Again, it feels like a vocal habit sneaking into my written work. (This could be a result of writing so much in first person, which tends to feel more colloquial.) Whether it’s adding a subtle emphasis or moderating a descriptor, I’m increasingly deciding that I just don’t like it.

Sometimes it’s worth using. Sometimes it means just what you want to say. But I try to challenge every one of them so they earn their place in my work. If in doubt, get the knives out and cut.

So here you go, tiny word ‘just’: take this bugbear costume and go sit in the corner. Stay there until you behave. Or until something else crops up to take your place in the naughty corner.

So what’s the thing that you look out for most in your writing?

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  1. Lexi Revellian says:

    Word echoes. Even now when I’m so aware of repeated words I notice them in traditionally published books, some slip past my inner editor to be caught by Pro Writing Tool later.

    ‘Slightly’, ‘rather’, ‘quite’ and similar modifiers can usually be dispensed with. Also most speech tags.

    March 25th, 2013 at 8:25 pm

  2. Mel says:

    Yes! Those are other words that I like to stamp out (slightly, rather, quite). All those little modifiers that creep in and weaken the message.

    They’re like Pokemon: gotta catch ’em all. And then crush ’em.

    March 25th, 2013 at 9:11 pm

  3. Francisco says:

    I’m remember hearing once that words like “very” don’t increase the impact of something, they reduce it.

    March 31st, 2013 at 3:57 pm

  4. Mel says:

    Yup, I’ve heard that advice, too, Francisco. And generally, I find it to be (very) true.

    Hmm, idea for a new post. šŸ™‚

    April 2nd, 2013 at 8:58 am