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Tighten Up! - Donna Everhart

Donna Everhart

Tighten Up!

There you are, plugging along, writing your first draft, and perhaps you’re already thinking about the work involved when you will need to go back and do revisions.   But…, did you know there’s a quick and easy way to make your writing better?  And it’s something you can do to tighten it up without too much brain power, and you can do this immediately?

Consider the infamous “to be” verbs, and those pesky adverbs known as “simply, only, and just.”  Being aware of these commonly overused words and kicking them to the curb can truly transform your writing – dramatically.  I didn’t find out about this until I’d finished my first manuscript and then?  Well, I had a big task in front of me to go through and eliminate all instances – or as many as I could.

Maybe this is stating the obvious for some, but I didn’t major in English, so, all of my writing “education” has come from reading, reading, reading, and reading some more.

Since learning this, I now try and actively avoid all “to be’s”:

  • Is
  • Was
  • Am
  • Are
  • Were
  • Be
  • Become
  • Became

And by “actively” I mean, while I’m writing my drafts.  Now, if doing this as you go along slows down your daily writing goal, or sends you into a hair pulling exercise, you can always wait until you are done for the day and then go back and do a “find” on the words.  After you’ve located them, you can work on a different way to structure the sentence in order to eliminate them.

I found this great piece of advice on how to do this without jeopardizing your master copy from this link here.  It just so happens to be from the University of North Carolina, (Go Heels!)

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Once you’ve cleaned up your manuscript by eliminating “to be’s,” next attack those adverbs:

  • Only
  • Just
  • Simply

You could do the same thing, and do a “find,” on your newly added words for the day and then delete them if that works for the sentence, or, figure out how to structure it so it reads cleaner.  Follow the same steps to get a “copy” to work from, then save it as advised in the link from UNC above.

And…, to give credit where credit is due, here is the blog site where I found advice on the adverb no-no which also gives examples of sentences with the adverbs removed:

Now, go back and read out loud what you’ve changed.  See?  Doesn’t that sound much better?

7 thoughts on “Tighten Up!”

  1. I taught AP Composition last year and my students were not happy about these sets of lessons. Use of to be verbs is called passive voice. It is my biggest weakness. My grad professor made me write some of my two page papers without using a single one! Just remember they definitely have a time and place.

    And on the adverb topic, try to get rid of most of them. (I didn’t read the link, so sorry if I’m repeating.) Adverbs and adjectives are generally the easy way out of finding stronger verbs and nouns.

    Good luck! I am not good at this myself!

    1. Hey Jennine,

      I’ve read over and over how much of a PITA getting this right can be…and it’s harder than we think, isn’t it?? (hence the phrase hair pulling exercise). It has been a real challenge for me, but, in doing this, I did find ways to make my sentences better. And I’m sooo guilty of passive voice…I used to have my word document set up so it would highlight when I did this and somewhere along the way I must have adjusted my setting b/c now, I no longer get that flag and I NEED it. I’ll have to figure out how to turn it back on again… (More than likely turned it off b/c most of my sentences were being underlined, grrr.)

      1. Yes, major PITA! But reminders are always needed. I have a co-worker who proofreads stuff I write and he always covers my paper in “PA” (passive voice). It is worth the work!

  2. Just so you know this is simply awesome advice. Were that I to become a fiction writer and be considered more than only a good one, I would say, I was, am, and are most thankful.
    Hahaha, used just about all of them; that was fun.
    I didn’t major in English either. Seriously very, very, helpful. Thanks.

    1. Hey Wry,

      When I decided to post this, I thought, everyone reading will think I’m such an idiot – like, “hey, I know this sh– tell me something I don’t know.” But, as many times as I’ve read about (as Jennine points out) “passive voice” and all the other no-no’s relating to adverbs and whatnot…I figured, well, maybe others will find it helpful. And correcting them just as a matter of clean up can be easy enough…then when you do the serious rewrites/revisions, you can focus on the story and beefing up descriptive words, etc. I’m happy you found this useful!

  3. I mostly agree about the adverbs, but adjectives are beautiful and expedient. And some writers use both with such joie de vivre that it’s impossible not to be charmed.

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