Tighten up: Nine words that weaken you writing

Some words are weak. Plain and simple. These words not only water-down your writing but mark you as a lazy writer.

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In the frenzy of a first draft, we toss in these words because there isn’t time to create the perfect metaphor. The story is flying fast and furious and you just need to get the words on the page, darn it. You’ll come up with the right simile or example or label or description later. When you have time. (But who has time?)

Before you know it these words have crept in and claimed their spot like the extra pounds you put on every winter. The rest of the story is so stellar, what’s an occasional weak word?

Editing makes or breaks a piece of writing. Truth.

Search out these words and replace them with more powerful words—words that help the reader see, sense, taste, touch, smell, hear what you’re trying to say. Words that create a clear picture or definite emotion. Strong words.

So what are these words that clutter up your writing?

I’ve listed nine, but there are others. A few adverbs come to mind. Personally, I love adverbs, so I’m not taking shots at them here. The words I’m going after are worse than a clever adverb. These are words that undermine the structure of your prose. Fire up that find feature and I bet you’ll spot your personal favorites in minutes.

Thing. What is it? Animal, vegetable, mineral? Could be. Thing is the vaguest of words out there. Don’t be a lazy writer—name it.

Stuff. Another horribly weak word. What does it mean? Could be anything. Stuff leaves way too much to the imagination. Be specific.

Seem. This is one of my pet words. Seem lets you hedge your bets. It only seems that way, so don’t blame me, I could be wrong. Seem dilutes the power of the word it precedes, and powerful words are so much more interesting to the reader. Go for broke. Either it is or it isn’t, and if you’re convinced it’s somewhere in between, describe why instead of taking the cheater’s route.

That. This one is tough for most of us but read your sentence with the word and without it. If you can cut it, then do.

With: I knew that she would stop by at five.

Without: I knew she would stop by at five.

Felt.  Unless we’re talking about that fuzzy material you used for craft projects in elementary school, avoid this word. If you’re telling the reader how the character felt, you’re not showing them. Find another way.

Cheating: She felt like he hated her.

Not that great, but better: His eyes grew dark as they met hers; it sent a shiver down her spine.

Think/Thought. When writing a character’s thoughts, you can almost always drop the intro. In general, most observations are attributed to your narrator. So unless you’re writing in third person omniscient (and you really shouldn’t), you don’t need to tell the reader the thoughts belong to the character, you can show them by the way you say it or by using italics. Either way, you take out the clunky he thought that slows down the story.

She thought it would take an elephant to move that box.

It would take an elephant to move that box.

The door opened and she thought she saw the woman from the night before sitting at the bar.

The door opened. The woman from the night before sat at the bar.

Walked. Sure it’s fine. We all walk, but how boring is that when a character can strut, stumble, amble, or stroll? Don’t miss an opportunity to say so much with just one word. You cheat yourself when your characters simply walk.

Geraldine walked up the sidewalk.

Geraldine marched up the sidewalk.

Kind of or Sort of. Once again, make a decision. Either it is or it isn’t. I’ve been guilty of using both these phrases, but when I’ve done it, it’s because that’s the way the character speaks. If you aren’t writing as a teenager or timid person than cut them out.

Then. Okay, maybe there’s a time and place for then, but it’s intrinsically weak. It sounds weak. It sounds like a second grader writing their first essay. The cat ran in, then the dog did. Then the mouse did. Then I did….You can do better. You can write better.

None of these nine words/phrases are inherently evil, but if your writing is littered with them, you may want to take a closer look. Weak words water down your writing. They make your prose vague and wishy-washy.  Mealy-mouthed, even. And you wouldn’t want to be mealy-mouthed now would you?

Then people might think that your stuff seems kind of amateur, and that sort of thing can make you feel like walking away from it all.

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.

Honored,

Cara

If you’d like to know more about me, my books, and where you might run into me, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

COMING AUGUST 2018 FROM Pegasus Books (available for preorder now:

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Blog On, My Friends, Blog On

I can while away entire mornings reading and commenting on other people’s blogs.

And when I consider the number of bloggers out there blogging away, it baffles my mind.

Some of them post every day, a few more than once a day.

I’m tempted to think that these are people who have too much time on their hands,

wasting time

but then I realized Continue reading “Blog On, My Friends, Blog On”

I Don’t Suck

On Wednesday I attended a local author event. I’d been invited to come speak and sell/sign books.

It was just me.

As in, the organizer wasn’t there, and the audience had better things to do.

I sat alone in the room for twenty minutes and then I went home and had a glass of wine with my husband and thought, “Maybe I suck.”

I’ve thought about it, and I’m pretty sure Continue reading “I Don’t Suck”

Writers Gotta Write (about something)

I always have something to say. (Just ask my husband.)

This is usually true about writing, also. I always have something to write about, but oddly, not today.

Today the distractions have me and my tired-I-didn’t-sleep-so-well mind.

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This blog is about writing and the writer’s life. Obviously, there is much that could be said about that, but….

The internet is smothered in writing wisdom. It is everywhere because, well, writers write.

It’s not like horseshoers or knitters or firemen. Continue reading “Writers Gotta Write (about something)”

I know that place, I’ve been there too

For whatever reason, I’ve been running into a lot of frustration lately.

I’m not the frustrated one, nope, I’m in a good place (for now). But a lot of the writers I know have recently shared their own head-banging-the-wall moments.

I know that place; I’ve been there. It’s part and parcel of being a writer, heck with being a person, really.

There are days, hours, okay maybe even weeks and months, but hopefully not years, when you feel as though all this slogging through the mud is getting you nowhere. No one, not even the dog, seems to appreciate your efforts. And let’s face it, basically, you suck at this. Continue reading “I know that place, I’ve been there too”

24/7 Writer Brain

Year of Yes cover image“Being a writer invades my life 24/7.”

When I read that line in Shonda Rhimes’ book Year of Yes, I thought, Exactly.

All day long I take mental notes of everything I see. I can’t not do this, even when I want to shut my brain off. Even when I notice stupid details that will likely never make it into my writing, like how cigarette butts pile up in intersections where people empty their ashtrays while their cars idle or how the smell of the dollar store clings to you even after you’ve been out of the store for hours.

And I wonder about everything…The Wal-Mart employee with the raccoon eyes, snapping her gum as she stands frozen, starring at a shelf, a product in her hand. Is she putting away returned items? Is she doing a price check? Has her brain frozen in place? Does she know her eyeliner is running? Does she care? Maybe she’s depressed? Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her this morning after he used her toothbrush and took the last bagel. Maybe….

The squished toad on the driveway, guts spewed out its flattened mouth. Did the driver notice before they ran it over? Did I run it over? The flattened skin has the same texture as a football.

The pink hue to the light at dusk and how it makes everything softer, the same way snow makes everything look cleaner. How do you capture its essence in words?

Walking the dog, I find myself narrating my actions as if I was in the story itself. “They crested the hill and scanned the woods for the fox that keeps watch over the chicken pen. A hawk circled overhead– was it a sign?”

busy beesI can’t seem to stop my brain. I tell it to chill, but it doesn’t listen. Maybe I should sign up for yoga or learn to meditate. Something to stop my busy brain.

Sometimes I’m frustrated when I can’t seem to put into words what I truly feel in my heart. The perfect words that floated through my thoughts as I ran along our country roads this morning, escape me when I finally sit down to type them out. When I read the writing of someone like Shonda Rimes, who so easily, almost embarrassingly, spills her heart on the page, I think, “Yes! That’s it!” I’m grateful for her talent and strive to open my own heart unfiltered as she does.

I find there to be a magic in writing, a power well beyond me. So I’m grateful for this 24/7 invasion. It makes my days richer, even as it means that my mind is preoccupied and sometimes I forget about the clothes on the line or the tea I left steeping on the counter.

Writing makes life more real for me. I’m awed by the potential power it holds. Maybe this next sentence will change a life or lift a spirit, bring back a memory, or at the very least, make someone wonder. Maybe it will shine right through, all the way from my heart to yours.

maybe it will shine

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.

Honored,

Cara

If you’d like to know more about me, my books, and where you might run into me, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

COMING AUGUST 2018 FROM Pegasus Books:

Another Good Dog cover

Lacking Inspiration?

Feeling inspired?

No?

You’re surrounded by inspiration, as ever-present as the air you breathe.

Okay, sometimes you have to reach further to find it, but it’s there, believe me.  All you need is an open mind, a little creativity, and a good analogy.

Okay, maybe the analogy doesn’t have to be that good.

Glancing around my workspace, I can see a pencil sharpener. That pencil sharpener is like me working on my latest manuscript  – I carve and twist and sharpen my point to perfection, but really, will anybody need that pencil? Nobody uses pencils anymore.

Depressing? Yeah, kind of.

Here’s an even more depressing one from PG Wodehouse:

“It has been well said that an author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.”

Do you suppose he was looking out the window at his garden when he came up with that one or maybe there was a brochure for the grand canyon on his desk?

Maybe you read that and thought, who thinks like that?

I would assert – anyone and everyone.

You, for instance.

You are surrounded by potential analogies. They’re everywhere.

My oldest child is a creative soul. This made him both a pleasure and a pain to raise.

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He is also smart. His standardized test scores came in very high in every area, except one.

Analogies.

These questions he would miss with alarming regularity. The problem was that he could always see two sides of everything.

analogies

He could absolutely understand how a bear could live in a hotel or a table could be used to sleep or a car is part of a kitchen or that something that is right is very wrong.

Look around you.

What does that lamp look like? A snake? A butter churn? An alien?

How could whether or not you made your bed this morning be an analogy for how you live your life?

What about your dog? Is he living the life he always wanted or is he a prisoner in a foreign land who has adapted well?

The truck rattling down the street — where is it going? What is it carrying? What has it seen? Who’s trapped inside? Did it runover the walnuts covering the street, the sound of the shells cracking like bullets exploding?

There is inspiration all around you, free for the taking.

inspiration

My cat has been slowly destroying my laptop. Whenever I leave it open, she nests on it. Her relentless plucking has removed key after key, her efforts so thorough most are unable to be snapped back on. This week she tore off the control key. I’m annoyed with her, but I’m sure there’s an essay in there. (I’ve lost my control….)

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Being open to possibility is the first step to discovering inspiration.

Sometimes when I’m journaling and can’t think of what to write, I’ll open a nearby book and randomly place my finger on a word or line. Then I’ll either continue the sentence or write about what that word or line brings to my mind. Other times I’ll look out the window and see what first catches my eye and explore why.

You can find inspiration on billboards, click bait, cereal packaging, or sales circulars. You can find it in the dirty laundry on the floor or the gunk in the sink drainer or the sarcasm in your teenager’s remark. There are analogies to be had in being late because the cat threw up or being lost when your GPS fails you.

Inspiration is everywhere. The place is lousy with it.

Breathe it in, and see where it takes your mind.

Need a chuckle? Check out these hilarious analogies written by high school students.

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.

Honored,

Cara

If you’d like to know more about me, my books, and where you might run into me, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

 

Sometimes It’s Brilliant, Sometimes it’s Cleaning Vegetables

“If every time you sat down, you expected something great, writing would always be a great disappointment.” -Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones)

This is the third post I’ve written for the blog this week. (Do notice that it’s the only post I’ve actually posted.)

The magic just wasn’t happening.

*sigh*

Maybe it’s the sore shoulder. (Writing injury. No lie. I won’t bore you with the entire post I wrote about it.)

Maybe it’s the gray-gray-gray of the never-ever-ever-ever ending winter. (We still have to get through February? March? The dental hygienist reminded me that April can be iffy, too.)

Maybe it’s the lack of puppies. (I own that addiction.)

Maybe it’s my new (depressing) resolution not to eat after 6pm (including wine?).

Whatever it is, when I sat down to write, everything that came out was boring and trite and no-help-to-anyone.

Those days happen. They’re part of being a writer.

Now here’s the part about being a professional writer….

I still wrote. Every. Day.

Even when it was horrible.

Because you know what?

IMG_1899Every time I put what’s on my mind and in my heart onto the page, it makes room for the bigger, better thoughts. Kind of like cleaning vegetables. I shucked the skin and cut off the core and picked out the seeds. Necessary work to get to the good stuff.

So maybe when I sit down to write next week, it’ll be clear sailing. Nothing but brilliance in prose form.

And if not?

I’ll write anyway.

How about you?

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.

Honored,

Cara

If you’d like to know more about me, my books, and where you might run into me, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

 

Falling in Love Has Nothing to Do With It

“You have to make a conscious decision to love someone.”

My mother told me this at some point in my young adult years. At the time I remember thinking that sounded like something an old person would say. It really poked all the fun out of ‘falling in love,’ something I experienced again and again and rarely acted on until I was nearly thirty.

I’ve reflected on those words many times in the years since she said it. In fact, my novel, Practicing Normal, explores that very idea. It holds up the concept of falling in love, against the reality of choosing to continue to love even when it isn’t easy. I’ve come to believe my mom is right. Love does require a conscious decision.

No more so than in marriage. I’ve been married now for twenty-two years. I’m here to tell you it’s not all fun and games. There are plenty of times when it requires serious work. And when you are bogged down in parenting or building a career you simply cannot coast on that euphoria of new love any longer. You have to make an effort. Even if you feel you’re carrying the larger load. Even when the bills and the laundry pile up, you still have to consciously decide to love this person who drives you batty at times.

The day we got married, I had a stomach flu that leveled me so badly my friends and sister-in-law had to dress me, do my nails, hair, and makeup. The limo didn’t show up and we all crammed in a friend’s mini-van to get to the church. The service started nearly twenty minutes late. Anything that could fall out of the sky, did fall out of the sky that November day – rain, sleet, snow, hail. My bridesmaids had barf bags wrapped around their bouquets, just in case.

And yet, my wedding was perfect. All the obstacles, whittled the event down to one thing for me. All I focused on, all I cared about, was being able to stand up and say my vows. Instead of worrying about my appearance and the million details I’d obsessed over for months, our wedding was about what it should have been about – making a conscious decision, even a declaration, to love each other. Forever.

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In Practicing Normal, Cassie, a hospice nurse expounds on my mother’s words:

“Love isn’t romance. It’s a grind. It’s being there every day, even when you don’t want to be. I see it all the time. I watch these people who sit with their dying spouse or friend or parent. They clean up their shit, spoon feed them their dinner, bathe them, read to them, take care of them—because they love them. It’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s not something you’d ever find in a romance novel. Love isn’t some grand thing that you luck into; there’s not magic chemistry involved. It’s a decision. A conscious decision. You have to decide you’re going to love someone and then you have to make that decision every day, every hour, again and again. Even when it sucks.”

I’m pretty sure my husband is forced to make the conscious decision to keep loving me much more often than I debate my own love for him. I know I’m not easy, and maybe that’s one of the things that makes me grateful for him. He tolerates my moods and whims and unilateral decisions about how many animals to bring home.

Just like sunscreen and thank you notes, mom was right. Loving someone is a conscious decision. One we all make every day, every hour, and if we’re lucky, for a lifetime.

Best,

Cara

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to know more about my writing and books, please visit CaraWrites.com, or connect with me on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram. You can win great stuff, get book recommendations & a monthly most awesome recipe, be bombarded with puppy pictures, and keep up with all my adventures, by signing up for my newsletter.

 

 

 

What is YOUR Creative Self Saying?

I started teaching a new course of Creative Writing this week. I forgot how much I love it. My class last spring didn’t fill and was canceled. At the time, I was busy preparing for a book launch, so I was somewhat relieved.

Driving home after class this week, I was energized. It’s so exciting to work with writers who are just beginning their journey. The possibilities are fresh and exciting.

The knowing nods when we talk about the urgent need to write, reassure me. I’m not the only crazy person in my town who feels this compelling urge to bear witness to all the little oddities in my life and heart.

pexels-photo-115782We talked about what we write and why. So many echoed the same sentiment—a voice running through their heads aching to get out on paper. I recognize that insistency. It’s their creative spirit. Everyone has one. That spirit can find its way out in a plethora of ways, but when its left trapped inside, unrecognized and unfed, it can lead to a confused despondency, a sadness borne of a day-after-day sameness. Continue reading “What is YOUR Creative Self Saying?”