Have no mercy for keeping words that clutter and dampen your sentences. If you want your prose to stand out, you must know the words not to use in your writing. Here’s why these six words should be hunted down and destroyed.
There’s no value to adding “just” to your sentence. Case in point:
- Wrong: The phone just rang three times.
- Right: The phone rang three times.
Removing “just” from the sentence tightens up the action and creates directness all readers appreciate reading.
Solution: Don’t waste your reader’s time. Delete the word.
This word indicates that the next sentence follows the last sentence’s action. See how it works against your intent:
- Wrong: She ripped a piece of paper from her notebook. Then, she wrote down her phone number. Then, she gave him the paper.
- Right: She ripped a piece of paper from her notebook, wrote down her phone number, and gave him the paper.
“Then” is already inferred because the first sentence structurally follows the last sentence’s action.
Solution: Eliminate these interruptions. Combine your sentences whenever possible.
Here’s the definition of suddenly: occurring without transition from the previous form or action. This example illustrates my point:
- Wrong: I removed the cookies from the oven. Suddenly, the glass vase exploded.
- Right: I removed the cookies from the oven. The glass vase exploded.
Writing the word “suddenly” at the beginning of the next action ruins the surprise of the intended suddenness and it slows down the action.
Solution: Let the readers experience the suddenness firsthand. Cross out that word and vow not to use it again.
To Be Verbs
That includes is, am, are, was, were, and will. For example:
- Wrong: I was running at the park.
- Right: I ran at the park.
Use active voice instead of to be verbs. Don’t let your writing delay the immediacy of action and description.
Solution: Write with confidence. Remove the to be verbs and correct the verb form.
Any action a person takes starts, continues, and finishes. The verb expresses all three phases. See here:
- Wrong: He started driving down the driveway.
- Right: He drove down the driveway.
If you want to express the changing of an action during the action, you need to use your words. That can be covered in descriptions and dialogue.
Solution: Remove “started” and adjust the verb.
The problem with similes: readers see right through them. If the noun or verb is like something, we know it’s not that thing.
- Wrong: He eats fast like a pig.
- Right: He eats fast. OR He gobbles his food.
Instead of “like,” choose correct verbs and accurate descriptions to draw your readers closer to your work. If you must, choose metaphors over similes for directness and confidence in your writing.
Solution: Have a backbone. Assert a comparison without “like” or zap it from your writing.
These words that you should not write may inevitably appear in your rough drafts, but that shouldn’t be your main concern when you write all your ideas down on paper. Catch these errors during your editing sessions. Your readers thank you in advance.