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Edit out literary throat clearing to make your work stronger

Writing a first draft is our opportunity as artists to follow the flow of our creativity, to let go and see where it takes us. Subsequent drafts are where we enter our editor mind and make sense of it all.

I do a lot of literary throat clearing in my first drafts. I used to worry about it and tried to fix it as I went, but I learned that was a waste of time. I learned some of what I’d written would be cut, so why waste time line-editing sentences before I’ve edited for plot or meaning?

When I am ready to examine my work at the sentence level, one thing I do is search for my throat-clearing words or phrases. These are empty or repetitious words that weaken my writing.

What I’ve noticed is they change over time. Evidently, I’m an evolutionary throat clearer.

When revising my memoir, I found weak verbs, linking verbs, and too many “woulds,” “coulds,” and “that’s.” In my current project, I’m noticing empty sayings or words that make my sentences weak.

As I notice these, I add them to my hit list so I can use the search function on Microsoft Word to ferret them out later. Here’s my current hit list:

For a bit
A little bit
Or, for that matter, anything with the word “little” or “bit” in it.

As you go through your own work, highlight words that weaken your prose and add them to your growing list of junk words. Sometimes, just becoming aware of your bad habits will make them go away.

Photo courtesy Scott Bourne, all rights reserved

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Love this info! I’ve learned too not to worry too much the first time through on the empty phrases. I trim the fat the second and third and fourth time through. Copy editors are great for that too! I’m going to feature some of your stuff on my blog this week. Thanks so much.

    May 23, 2013
  2. Great reminders!

    June 14, 2020

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