Tag Archives: word choices

Get the Rust Off Your Writing


Here’s a handy little checklist of simplistic, over-used, blathering, and dull phrases to replace in your writing. Bulking it out with examples was easy. I have to revise my own rough drafts. A blitz draft isn’t expected to be great, just be, with the major interactions covered. Part of low-level revision, the line-edit, is to find this sort of flaccid, wordy writing and sharpen it up.

Rule One, and I’m not going to argue this, because it’s an industry standard, is that passive writing (not “passive voice” or “passive tense”) is dull and unwanted. What they don’t point out is that the verb “to be” is not just overused, but abused by sloppy writers. Especially in the 21st century the habit developed of conversational phrases all being build on “to be”: “I’m not being happy with this” instead of “I’m not happy with this.” Conversational language is based on slowing idea flow to match audio understanding by filling in with a lot of worthless spacers. It’s boring as writing.

“To be” is so necessary in many places that you can’t afford to waste it where something else will do.

The “there/it was/were … that/who” structure is completely passive and 100% padding. It never adds anything but noise. It does not even slant emphasis, only weakens what you say. It is a verbal spacing habit of particular ineffectuality in writing.

There was a boy who stood on the docks. = A boy stood on the docks.
It was rain that settled their travel plans. = Rain settled their travel plans.
It was never good news that came in the middle of the night. = Good news never came in the middle of the night. OR Never did good news come in the middle of the night (if you must emphasize “never” through the roof).
There were bandits who raided every spring. = Bandits raided every spring.

Double “hads” should be avoided. There are almost always other ways to say it.

Had had to do = had done of necessity, had needed to do
Had had to go = had gone, had needed to leave, had been forced to flee
Had had it = had possessed it, had owned it, had endured it, had enjoyed it, had loved it, was fed up with it, etc. Notice how foggy this phrase is.

Other flaws along this line vary from using Read the rest of this entry