To Ly Word or Not to Ly Word: Writing Real Good. No. I Mean It. (Part 1)

In writer’s group (a million years ago), an author read her work aloud. The story was a fantasy and while the plot might have been interesting, it got lost in the words.

That can happen, you know. Too many words. Too many weak words. Too many throw away words.

Your words should work for you. Hard.

“If you do these few things,” I said, offering suggestions because we were in writer’s group, trying to be better writers, “you’ll strengthen the writing. Everything will be more clear. Cleaner.”

“Oh,” she said, waving me off. “My genre excuses bad writing.”

My eyeballs fell on the floor and rolled under an arm chair.

Another published writer in that same group said to suggested changes from us, “That’s what my editor’s for. To catch these mistakes.” We had offered suggestions because we were in writer’s group, trying to be better writers. Get it?

At Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers my hope is every writer learns how to be the best writer she can be. Writing well is a process. I always strive to form tight, strong sentences. I want to be better. We can never know too much.

(Here’s an argument from William Faulkner.  “Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.”)

“But, said another writing friend of mine, “you know readers are blind to style.”

That may be, Writing Brothers and Sisters, but at this point, I’m still not. And so as long as I write, I plan to write the best I can. And this week on TUW, I wanna talk about a few tips. Here’s one for today.

My mother said, “If you have to pay a dollar for every word you put on the page, you’d trim your writing and use only the best language.” Mark Twain said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

You can cut some of these words, too–that, well, start, begin, just, was-ing words

Question: What words are throw aways in your opinion?



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9 responses to “To Ly Word or Not to Ly Word: Writing Real Good. No. I Mean It. (Part 1)

  1. For me, just and very. I only use them if it’s 100% necessary.

  2. love this post. eyeballs falling on the floor. my favorite line. and yes to all the words you cut! i’m working on that right now. ❤

  3. Ernest Robertson

    Hi Carol!

    When I think of throw-away words, vague description words come to mind, such as beautiful. For example, typing something like “They lived in a beautiful house” without showing us how or why it was beautiful isn’t usually the best approach. However, if the writer shows us through various details that the house is beautiful then there’s no need to use the word beautiful because we can see that it is.

    So a vague description word isn’t enough without additional details, but is redundant with the additional details.

    Thank you for your post!

    • CLW

      Perfect, Ernest.
      If it’s important (and you make it so by saying the house was beautiful, by adding that adjective), you need to make sure your words work for you.

  4. Bruce

    Okay, Karsa, I can live without very. I just don’t see how to do away with the other one.

  5. Karen Pierotti

    Loved this. About the was-ing words. I just had a discussion about this on Storymakers Tribe FB on passive voice. This is often a useful tense (past progressive) though it should be used sparingly, I agree. In my Scottish novel, it’s a tense that’s used frequently in Scots, Irish and Welsh speakers speaking English, so I only try to use it in dialogue or when something really is an ongoing process. I did have to cut a lot of out because my brain was thinking (ha ha, just used it) in Scots mode. I do try to do a search and replace or rather a search and delete for “that,” “start” and “begin.” As for the -ly words, I do use these once in a while. I’m amazed at those stories from your critique group. For me, the whole point of a critique group is to make things better.


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