5 weak words to whack from your writing

There are 5 words that weaken your writing. Whack them when you see them and increase the power of your prose. In random order…

1. Very / Really

Very and really are often used for emphasis. Funny thing is, they’re so weak they do a poor job of emphasizing much of anything. Here’s an example…

His hands were very cold
His hands were
ice cold.

2. That

“That” is usually padding. In most cases, you can drop it and the sentence will instantly become more powerful. When dropping it doesn’t work, rearranging usually does the trick to make the sentence more evocative. Two examples…

I was sick in bed the night that my sister ran away.
I was sick in bed the night my sister ran away.

Scotland seemed like nothing but hills that flowed green.
Scotland seemed like nothing but
flowing green hills

3. Suddenly

Suddenly means quickly and without warning. But, using the word removes the “sudden” experience for the reader. Examples…

I was watching television, shoveling popcorn into my cake hole and laughing at how ridiculous Phoebe is. Suddenly, a rock crashed through the window.

I was watching television, shoveling popcorn into my cake hole and laughing at how ridiculous Phoebe is when a rock crashed through the window.

4. Perhaps/Maybe

The words perhaps and maybe are used to express uncertainty. So if you’re not actually uncertain, they rob your writing of conviction. Examples…

Perhaps I should have been more open about what really happened.
I should have been more open about what really happened!

5. Literally

When something is true in a literal sense, you don’t need to use the word literally. The only time to use the word literally is to clarify meaning. For example, to clarify you’re not joking when it might seem like you are.

I literally drove for 18 hours, non-stop!
I drove for 18 hours, non-stop!


So there you go. Write those 5 puppies on a sticky note and watch for them.
When you see them — whack away.

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. — Mark Twain.

Thanks so much for reading! ❤