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Strengthen Your Writing by Listening to Pet Peeves

When your writing has to answer to someone, you’re going to be faced with a number of annoying “suggestions” from your editors or clients. Even when your copy is grammatically impeccable, they request you change the word “comedic” to “comic” because of some professor they had in college! I received this request from a real editor. It’s nothing but a pet peeve, but maybe it can also lead to stronger writing.

Instead of grumbling, note these pet peeves. Letting them dance at the edges of your mind while you write will encourage thoughtful and concise writing. When you’re nagged by the difference in connotation that two letters can make, you’re sure to choose your words carefully!

Especially when you’re faced with a tight word count, avoiding things like overusingthat or other deadwoodphrases can save valuable space for important ideas. Even if they’re not technically incorrect, forming a habit of checking yourself before using unnecessary words will ensure each word you do use will be that much stronger.

Since I’m allowed the opportunity to share today, here are some of my particular writing pet peeves and reasons why avoiding them will help tighten your copy:

1. “As I said.”

Whether in a blog post, essay, or casual first-person fiction, this phrase is never necessary. Those three words indicate that whatever follows is redundant and unnecessary. If you find yourself typing them, stop and think about where you’ve already iterated this idea earlier in the article. Does the idea belong down here instead? Is there something you need to add to clarify the original idea?

2. “Anyway…”

A paragraph introduced with this word highlights the uselessness of the preceding words. You’ve gone off on a tangent, peeled into a rant, taken your reader away from the topic of your piece. Instead of trying to reel them back in with “anyway…” just find the original idea you’re trying to get back to, and delete the rant in between.

3. “The fact that.”

This phrase is usually unnecessary and redundant and gives your writing the tone of wanting to be more official than it is. Instead of saying The fact that she’s grinning proves she’s hiding something, try That she’s grinning proves she’s hiding something, or the more active She can’t stop grinning, so I know she’s hiding something.

4. “Currently.”

This is a pet peeve I acquired from the agents at BookendsLitAgency. Often used in cover letters, bios, or introductory emails, the word is usually redundant rather than demonstrative.  If you don’t think you can cut it, try substituting “now” for a simpler, smoother sentence.

5. “So, [insert question here].”

I see this so often in instructional copy, especially in blog posts. The writer opens with a chunk of the core idea — say, Listen to pet peeves to strengthen your writing — and follows it with So, how can listening to pet peeves strengthen your writing? It’s redundant, and it’s lazy writing. Your writing isn’t alone at an awkward cocktail party, searching for the next topic. Work harder for a smooth, solid transition!

6. “Well…”

This also looks like lazy writing to me. Why should you listen to your editor’s silly pet peeves? Well, they just might help strengthen your writing! You may not be happy with the transition from the first sentence to the second, but sticking “well” in there is an immature solution.

Did I get inside your head? Check yourself before sending copy with these (and other) deadwood phrases in it, and you’ll see stronger writing. Also check out these agent pet peeves that Writer’s Digest published a few years ago: “What to avoid in Chapter One,” Part One, Part Two.

Tell me your opinion: What are your writing pet peeves?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Dana!

  2. In the middle of edits. This helps. :) Thanks!

  3. This is a great list. I need to take note, because I see some of the words I use a lot on there. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for sharing!

  5. My heart just sank – I do some of these regularly, especially in my blog *hangs head in shame*. Thanks for sharing your list, hopefully these will prick my writing ear in the future. So, well, anyways (anyhoo)… my pet peeve is “that”. It breeds like rabbits and never seems to be in the right place.

  6. my only suggestion regarding these really useful ideas, to myself anyways ;-) is that they’re perfectly fine as part of the dialog from a character, if it’s in character; but much less so from the narrator

    currently, that’s my working theory, so, i’ll stick with that for now, and that, is a wrap ;-)

  7. For me it is always ‘so’ and ‘well’

    I have to REALLY try to cut this from my work. Not so much in my Blog Posts, because I find it adds some everyday voice, but in my fiction, yes sir!

    Great tips. Thanks for the share

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  8. “That” and “Somehow” make me crazy… largely because they always seem to magically appear in MY writing!

  9. I might overuse ‘well’. Not sure. I’ll deny it if pressed. Well, maybe not. My pet peeve is ‘basically’. I come across it a lot, mostly in speeches. I was once instructed to write the way I talk and then remove the ‘um’s and ‘ah’s and ‘ya know’s. I still try to write that way, occasionally inserting an humongous word in an effort to impress the reader when a combination of a simple alliteration and a wee word would suffice.

  10. Incorrect placement of commas constantly vexes me. I struggle with starting every sentence with the subject. Too many he’s and she’s in a row.

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