In keeping with my realization and resolution yesterday (not a New Year’s Resolution, just a regular old un-arbitrarily-linked-to-meaningless-space-time-data resolution), I attacked the edit hard today. Lots of parsing, lots of tidying, lots of trimming and sweeping, but no reconstructive surgery. And I was flying. I got through twenty pages, wrote several new paragraphs that needed inserting and deleted a handful that were just cluttering up the joint. Twenty pages in a day!
And as I always do when I’m reading over my own writing, I realized another thing. My prose is lousy with junk language.
It’s a first draft, so I’m not mad at myself, but it was still shocking to see how much I lean on empty modifiers and redundant qualifiers. Prime example? Just.
Not just as in right, but just as in only just. This is a word that’s practically invisible to me in speech — I knew that already — but in my writing, it flows out just as invisibly (see? Just there. AND AGAIN.) To be honest, I didn’t even spot it until I was thirty minutes into my work, and then only because just appeared twice in the same sentence. I’d carelessly used it twice by mistake, but the sudden jolt of reading it twice gave me pause. Then I pondered.
An invaluable tool during the edit has been the “find” feature. I can search for swear words (which need editing out), chapter titles (to track down errant plotlines and quickly navigate the document), and goofy little symbols I’ve thrown in to mark trouble spots. It’s a great tool for making quick work of pervasive problems and finding my way around, but today it found a new task: Seek and destroy.
“Just” went into the finder. Actually, “just ” with a space went into the finder, to weed out any fancy words like justice or justified or Justin (all Justins should be removed from all books, just on principle, but that’s a topic for another post). The result? I had written “just” into the book 358 times. The number as a number doesn’t do itself justice. That’s three hundred, fifty eight times I used the word “just” as a modifier in the course of a book that’s 175 pages in Word. Two per page.
Out came the scissors and the “just”s began falling to the ground like my hair, back when I used to have enough hair to necessitate going in for haircuts. Fifty of them got cut with no other modification to the lines they appeared in, another fifty got removed with minor modification, and the other two hundred fifty are slated for summary destruction tomorrow. Now, don’t get me wrong. Adverbs have their place. But for me, this junk language is as obvious a crutch as you could hope to see.
I usually like to dig below the surface and make extra meaning out of my issues, but there’s nothing extra in this one. There’s something to be said for conversational tone here on the blarg and in, y’know, conversation. But that junk language creeping into “proper” writing is bad news, and I have a feeling that much like roaches in your kitchen, there are a hundred hiding in the walls for every one that you see in the open.