W3 Wise Words on Writing

W3 is a monthly newsletter for writers on a variety of topics from technique to the psychology of writing. It appears by the 15th of each month. More information is available from www.wisewordsonwriting.com

Sunday, December 11, 2005

No. 39 Polishing Lazy Writing

W3 is updated the 15th of every month.Old issues are still available at http://www.wisewordsonwriting.com Please share W3 with your writing friends. Teachers: use anything from W3. If you quote us please give our website and blogsite. I welcome comments: donna-lane.nelson@wanadoo.fr


In editing my latest novel I cut 10,000 from 95,000 words. I’d been guilty of lazy writing. Those 10,000 words were just hanging around the page not moving the plot forward, not showing anything, not giving the reader stronger descriptions. They were ink users.

Lazy words decrease intensity. Here’s some examples.

“Aidan came into the room holding a hammer in his hands.” Where else would he hold it? In his ears? Drop the “in his hands.”

“Both Jess and Lynne were unable to answer.” Since there were only three people involved in the conversation and only two were asked the question “both” doesn’t add a thing.

“'That’s weird,' Bridget said hugging herself." It’s dialogue. We can cut the “that’s”. We don’t even need said. “Weird.” Bridget hugged herself." A lot of saids can be sent to the garbage. ‘“Weird.’ Bridget hugged herself” reads cleaner. The words that are left work harder.

“Patrick and Bridget left the room together at the same time.” Together and at the same time are repetitious. If the left together it had to be at the same time and vice versa. Patrick and Bridget left the room within a few minutes of each other, is a little different however.

“Aidan stood and walked across the room.” The reader doesn’t need a movement-by-movement description to get Aidan across the room. Also, he wouldn’t walk from a sitting position. If the reader can't figure out he had to stand before he could walk, then you have a very stupid reader.

“She read worry on his face for her.” I didn’t need the “for her”. The situation showed what he was worried about.

“Her whole family” Her family is enough because the context made the word whole unnecessary. The reader knew they were all in the room with her.

“The bigger of the two men who flashed the FBI badge threw Peggy to the floor only seconds after she heard the breaking of the glass and feet thudding up the stairs.” I don’t need the only. I also dropped who flashed the FBI badge because that was repetitious to something I had written earlier. The final sentence was “The bigger FBI man threw Peggy to the floor seconds after she heard glass break and feet thud up the stairs.” Although I have let it go at the moment, I still think improvement is possible.

In each piece you write go back and examine each word and weigh its place in the story. Ask youself these questions?

1. Is it repetitious?

2. Does it make sense?

3. Is it too obvious?

4. Is it grammatical (dialogue can be ungrammatical)?

5. Do you have a clause that could be reduced to a word?

6. If you rearrange/cut the words in a sentence is the sentence stronger?

7. If you rearrange/cut the sentences in a paragraph is the paragraph stronger?

8. If I do a global search for “ly” will I find too many adverbs?

9. If I do a global search for “ing” will I find too many ---ing verbs that might be strengthened?


1. “Imainge your on Oprah. The camera swivels you way, the red light is in your face and you’re on.

“What do you say? Your mouth opens, and out comes…“’Uhhh, ahhh.? The camera swivels away. In a split second you have ruined your life.”

2. “All writing begins life as a first draft, and first drafts are never (well, almost never) any good, They are not supposed to be.

3. “The best writing is the clearest: We sense its meaning immediately.”

Examples 1-3 are from Patricia T. O’Conner WORDS FAIL ME, which I recommend.

4. So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time. Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize winner in literature, December 8, 2005 in Sweden


1. Do a free write for five minutes. Put it aside for a day. Then come back and reduce it to three sentences.

2. Take a page from any novel and rewrite it.

3. Find something you wrote at least a year ago and take one paragraph. List each word on a different line. Then think why you put that word in the sentence.


I am reading much on the big debate in the States about the usage of the words Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays. Political correctness can dilute language. Christmas is Christmas. Hanukah is Hanukah. What is wrong in saying it directly. If you add New Years to either celebration it really is Happy Holidays be it Christmas or Hanukah plus New Years. If you're Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic or a worshipper of the great goddess of shopping you still are changing the year in most secular worlds. Happy is a nice word. My Brit friends wish me Happy Christmas. Merry is a nice word.

I wish the same people who worry about Holidays diluting Christmas would worry more securitiy company be substituted for mercenary, Operation Iraqi Freedom substituted for illegal attack on a sovereigh nation, insurgent vs. freedom fighter, etc.

Language is powerful, which is why as writers we should tell it as we see it.

See you next month by the 15th

D-L Nelson