Friday, October 29, 2010

It’s really just that I so very much like using rather superfluous words.

by Rachel S.
For my very-first-ever real blog entry, I thought I’d have to look hard to find something both relevant and personally interesting to write about. Surprisingly (to me), it took under 5 minutes before this Huffington Post article, written by Linda Silversten, came to my attention. I jumped on it immediately in a guilty rush to see what she had to say about writers who use too many unnecessary words in their prose. Noting that in recent years published writing has become more and more conversational, Silversten took it upon herself to pick two recent bestsellers and count the number of taboo “filler” words peppering the pages for comparison. While Elizabeth Gilbert and Seth Godin didn’t err too far to overuse, Silversten still found an overwhelming amount of ‘thats’ and ‘sos’ in the portions of text she chose to tally.

I’ve known ever since in-class essays became a normal testing method in grade school that I have a strong tendency to write far too much and use more words than are necessary to convey a point or image. While this was a point of pride in school (I was always a little bit smug, though I tried to hide it, when I asked the teacher for more paper during every exam), I’ve eventually come to understand that MORE writing doesn’t necessarily make for BETTER writing. I’m still working on the short sentences thing, though. I don’t think that these little filler words that this article brings up are as much of a problem in my own writing as are an overabundance of adverbs and split-infinitives (the phrase still sends me running to the dictionary every time someone tells me I have too many). Are Linda Silverton’s taboo words just as much a problem for you as they seem to be for most writers, or do you have words or tendencies of your own that you work to suppress?

12 comments:

  1. This is one of my favorite topics! (Could be it's because as a former newspaper reporter, I grew skilled in cutting unnecessary words.) My personal bugaboo is "just." I have to do a search and find for it in my manuscripts.

    I like to send my students to William Zinsser's classic writing book On Writing Well. Chapter 2 (Simplicity) and Chapter 3 (Clutter) are short but packed with examples of this. (The rest of the book is helpful, too.) Zinsser points out phrases like "personal friend," "at the present time," and "due to the fact that" as examples of clutter.

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  2. It's so funny that posts and articles about this are cropping up right now, because this is exactly what I was learning about my writing a week or so ago during revisions. Or maybe it's always been a topic of interest around the web, and I'm just noticing it because of my own experiences.

    Anyway, it's funny that you mention being naturally verbose, because that's definitely my problem. Glad I'm not alone!

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  3. I love this article! I too am too verbose at times. I've been trying to work on it and found it's actually slowed down my writing process. A thousand carefully-thought out words take a lot longer to write than a thousand words where verbosity is doing all the work. All I hope is that they're a more polished thousand words.

    I think I've gotten better than cutting down the "that"s in my writing, but I do still need to work on "very" and "little" and its synonyms. I have a tendency to overuse "a bit" or "slightly" as well.

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  4. I can be verbose, but I hate the idea of words or structures being taboo. The only people who don't like them are writers who had to stop using them because other writers told them to.

    I've never heard a non-writer get agitated about adverbs.

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  5. I'm afraid to check out the article, for fear that I'll be guilty of overusing every word on the list.

    And now, please excuse me, for I must run to the dictionary to look up the meaning of split-infinitives.

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  6. I'm horrible about overusing "like" and "just" because I write very conversationally. Instead of reading my writing AFTER the fact, like most people do, I mouth out most of it WHILE I write, so I end up throwing in too much casual.

    Someone suggested the "Wordle" website to me and now whenever I write something, I copy and paste it and it lets me know what words I overuse.

    Kudos on the blog title :)

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  7. I have a whole list of words I search-and-destroy during editing, including that, than, just, almost, nearly, etc., etc. They have to fight to the death for survival, and I usually win.

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  8. I'm with you on this one, Rachel. I've always had a tendency towards verbosity.
    But, like an addict on word-withdrawal, I'm fighting it hard.
    'Just' and 'then' are big ones for me.
    I have to keep remembering to get the o' weed whacker out on my manuscript and simplify.

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  9. Thank goodness for the "find" thingee in word. "Just" is one I overuse. Sometimes I just write (see, there it is) in a first draft, and use the find button to clear out the repeat offenders later. It keeps me from nit-picking every sentence.

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  10. Hi, you could clip 70 words off this 320 word post and still inform and entertain while making your point.

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  11. I think it's kind of like learning any other craft. If you learn to figure skate- you gotta get the simple basic moves down. Then once you've mastered them, you're given creative leeway to put them to music and make something original and moving. I can hope writers are given the same freedom once they've proven themselves. Yours is one of the better posts btw. I have to ask- does this agency assign out blog posts like home work assignments? Just seems like so many posts I read here are 'forced'- lack personality and are kind of hard to take interest in when compared to other blogging agents or agencies. I mean, even the layout here is a carbon blogger original- and an old one at that- you can't even find it anymore. It takes five minutes to find a updated design that would be more engaging. Out of all the agent blogs I frequent, this is one is by far, the most boring and I wonder why the agency even bothers keeping it up? Is it to interest writers in querying them? (probably not) To help the writing community in some way by giving them insights into what agents are looking for? (not from what I've read). Or maybe it's simply because 'everyone else is doing it'. It just feels like one on-going homework assignment after another. Like every intern is given their turn at 'the blog' "Hey suzie! Find something relevant to post on'the blog' today". Ugh. If that's the case, no wonder the posts lack personal investment. Sorry for the rant. I'm just always dissapointed to see a top notch agency representing themselves in a..less than top notch way.

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  12. Tanya Thibodeau5/11/10 12:26 AM

    Well personally I have to disagree with the last comment. 1) this blog site is as current and common as the next and is one of the current layouts offered through blogger.com, which is the site I use for my own blog for my newspaper (a little research goes a long way). 2) I have also found many of the posts to be personable - they're either a bit of fun, a bit of insight, a bit of open honesty... I find it refreshing. Not everything on a blog has to be a controversial debate... but that's just my opinion.

    Well done to Dystel & Goderich and I especially loved this post of Rachel's, as I can 100% relate to what she is saying.

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