This Word Makes You a Very Lazy Writer
We’ve all used this word when we think, when we speak and when we write. It’s very easy to do.
See? I just used it.
Didn’t catch it? Let’s try this again.
It’s not an elaborate word, a controversial word, an out-of-date word or a trending word. It’s a word that we slip in to our sentence at the very last moment to emphasize our point.
Missed it again? I’ll spell it out for you.
The word we use that makes us lazy writers is this word: VERY
I blogged about this a few years back. That’s because it’s one of the many words we’re overusing in our writing.
But I didn’t tell you why it’s important not to include it in your story. Now I’m ready to tell you why.
Why VERY is a Very Wrong Word to Write
More people probably recognize the following quote from Robin Williams’ character in the movie rather than from the actual book. Either way, it’s sums up my thoughts quite well:
“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose.”
—N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society
End of blog post? Course not.
The word VERY is, well,
very lazy sluggish. It shows that you didn’t spend the time to think of a stronger word.
Stories that really capture our attention focus on the art of heightening the action. Pick up your favorite book and skim through a handful of pages. Scratch that — flip right to your favorite part of your story. Do you see the word VERY on any of those pages?
Unless the word VERY is used in dialogue to emphasize the character’s personality, you’re simply not going to find it in a strong story. Because successful writers (and editors) know that action is intensified by more descriptive verbs and adverbs.
Imagine the storytellers of yore. They didn’t gather crowds with their verbal tales by saying the word VERY. They spoke words that kept the interest of crowds and to increase the anticipation of their listeners.
I’m not saying assassinate the word on the spot. In fact, there is still a time and place to write the word VERY.
Contradiction Time: You Can Still Write the Word VERY
I’m not saying that I’ve never used this word. In fact, if you do a search on my blog, I bet you’ll find a post or two where the word makes a cameo appearance.
I guess from time to time I, too, am a lazy writer. Or a lazy editor.
And that’s when you can use the word VERY: When you write your first draft.
We’re told as writers to not overthink our writing. That we should not edit during our writing session because of what our inner editor does to our writing.
So telling you to not use the word VERY while writing your first draft is unproductive. You’ll see the word, stop your writing and spend the time you should be writing brainstorming a new word for “very fast.”
Instead, write down the word VERY and move on with the story.
The time to not use the word VERY is when you edit your story. You should spot it and replace it with a more descriptive action or adverb.
Using the word VERY is not a reflection on you as a writer. It’s a reflection on you as an editor. That’s because when you edit, you’re able to step back and see the big picture of the action. And if that word doesn’t stand out as a dud, you’re not seeing the scene clearly.
Because when your story works, critics don’t just glorify the scene as a whole. They scrutinize every detail. And isn’t the heart of the story within the words we scribble down to tell them?
I try to limit my use of the word very, especially in inner dialogue. But I’ve noticed that people tend to use the word a lot themselves so try to make the dialogues between characters more realistic by using the word ‘very.’ Other than that, I try to cut it out by using similes and metaphors or look up in the thesaurus. For example instead of writing “Sheila walked very fast,’ I’d use “Sheila walked swiftly, like the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels.’