that, just, very, which, really, only

Well, I made it through the SPAG edit of the sequel to Weekend Plans, and it was an eye-opening experience. As I said previously, the six words I go through and try to cut out are that, just, very, which, really, and only. (Sometimes I also do every.) It blew me away just how often I used these words:

  • that — started with 3769, finished with 2835 (934 removed)
  • just — started with 1406, finished with 993 (413 removed)
  • very — started with 896, finished with 793 (103 removed)
  • which — started with 622, finished with 553 (69 removed… nice!)
  • really — started with 652, finished with 568 (84 removed)
  • only — started with 380, finished with 380 (none removed)

I know these are normal words in the English language that people use on a daily basis, but I also know that my writing is full of them — especially that, which I used three times in this sentence alone. However, editing while writing is a fool’s errand, so I just write whatever comes out of my brain and then go back and fix it later. That said, for a book that’s more than 330,000 words, it’s likely these words will be used an awful lot.

That, especially, is a tough one. In the novel Embassytown by China Mieville (which, if anyone ever asks me what my favorite book is, that’s the one I choose), the alien race, the Ariekei, are incapable of telling lies, including the use of imagination, and they also don’t have the word that in their language. I don’t think I could write an entire story without using that word, unless it was flash fiction or something; it’s too ubiquitous in English to go without. Of course, now I want to give it a try.

Not right this second. Someday, perhaps.

The other problem with doing my “six overused words” edit is that I often — and quickly — reach the point of semantic satiation, and every time I see the word that I get the feeling that I’m just throwing letters on the page, that they don’t really make any sense. And when you have more than 2500 instances of that to start with, it’s kind of an understandable problem.

Anyway, the whole point of this post is: I’m done editing the sequel to Weekend Plans. Now it’s time to start typesetting, which means an awful lot of Command-K and Command-Shift-K.


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