The pen is mightier than the shovel

shovelingEskimos can’t have more words for snow than Central New Yorkers do. Finding myself in CNY at the moment, I have some choice words of my own for snow. Be gone.

I admit, though, that this white (or grey or black) stuff has its uses. For example, it inspires metaphorical thinking. One minute I’m chiseling frozen slush off the sidewalk; the next I’m thinking, This is like editing. Writers hack, hack, hack at the bits and chunks and heaps obstructing the mind’s way until either (a) we give up and leave our readers, like unfortunate pedestrians on a precarious trail, to fend for themselves or (b) we stand back in sweaty awe of the path that we’ve created.

If you’re hardy enough to apply a shovel to your own writing, you’ll want to give the heave-ho to the following words.

very It fails to emphasize: “I have a very strong desire to clear this walkway.”
really It weakens your point: “I really have a strong desire to clear this walkway.” (Better yet, put a verb to the heavy lifting: “I long to clear this walkway.”)
any other word that ends in -ly Adverbs are actually, truly, frankly, extremely, definitely, totally, literally, simply as insubstantial as the weightless, drifting snow that Eskimos call weightless, drifting snow.
just See Don’t say “just.” I’m just sayin’. (No point expending effort repeating myself here.)
proverbial See The proverbial proverbial. (No point expending effort repeating myself here.)
try See Try not to try. (No point expending effort repeating myself here.)
different See Let me count the — different? — ways. (No point expending effort repeating myself here. Hey, wait a minute…)
the fact that The fact that you’re reading this blog Your visit makes me happy. Enjoy your stroll.
not This word does not have lacks muscle.
any other words that you can toss Going after culprit words like the ones in this list (or in any of a thousand such lists) warms you up. After you’ve chucked them, stretch, bend, twist, shake your arms, and hunker down for the real chore.
never I’m kidding. Of course you can say never. How else can you tell people what words never to use?

Come on now. Put your back into it.

P.S. Like all other rules — and unlike your back — these rules are for breaking. If you’re writing poetry or lyrics, say, or if you’re going for a certain voice, or if you have a reason of any other kind (good reasons being preferable by most accounts), knock yourself out. Not literally. There, I broke a rule. I also broke one in sentence #1. Anyone notice? (John, Doug, thanks for the replies that prompted this P.S.)

2 thoughts on “The pen is mightier than the shovel

  1. Unnecessary words take a trained eye to spot. I know I discover these kinds of [totally] useless words sticking out of my sentences [pretty] frequently. But when I root them out and eradicate them I feel [so much] better. As for sentence one, get rid of your TO BE. Then you will NOT BE. That is, after all, the question.

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