Updated May 11, 2012
Are you reading this on a Droid? On an iPhone? On some other diminutive device being introduced even as I write this? Knowing that you could be gives me pause. The smartphone has become a primary reading device. So, unless you write nothing but lost-cat posters destined for telephone poles, or other print pieces that no one will ever upload to the Web, you have little choice but to join me in grappling with this question: what must writers do differently to accommodate the small screen?
The answer, I believe, is … nothing.
Sometimes it’s okay to try. Go ahead and try a new recipe. If someone you love has had a trying day, by all means try a little tenderness.
But most of the time, don’t try.
We all know what kids mean when they tell their parents, “I’ll try.”
How’s this for weak advice? (I swear I just read this in a newsletter.) “If you can’t justify the existence of some of your content, try to live without it.” Try to live without it? No! If you can’t justify its existence, dump it. Deep-six it. Sayonara, bye-bye, content, you are OUTAHERE. Ix-nay on the y-tray.
Sally’s going to try to eat smaller portions. Joe’s going to eat smaller portions. Who’s going to lose weight?
As for the Old College Try, it’s the Old College Fail. Give it the Old College Do.
Eskimos 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
|really||It weakens your point: “I
|any other word that ends in -ly||Adverbs are
|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|
|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.)
I have nothing against the word different. Sometimes nothing else will do. For example, you might be tasting a fresh batch of headcheese, made from an old family recipe. “My,” you could say, “That’s different.”
But if you’re stating or even implying a number — twelve or two or a whole bunch — stop right there. Whatever those countable things are — bridges or sheep or charities — you don’t need to declare their differentness.
Consider these phrases:
- A dozen different bridges
- Two different sheep
- A lot of different charities
Those bridges had better be different, or something’s awry with the laws of physics. Same goes for the sheep, even if one’s a clone of the other. And if you’re calling the charities different, don’t ask me for a donation. If you’re wasteful with words, why should I trust you with money?
Just say no to just. You just don’t need it. Sometimes this filler word just slips out, especially right before a verb where it just adds no value. It just happens. Just forgive yourself, and just move on. You might notice that, just when you think you’ve licked the habit, it just creeps up on you again. But just don’t worry about it. With practice, you can just banish this tic. You’ll strengthen your writing — just like that.
(Credit for this topic goes to… you know who you are.)
My New Year’s resolution is to stop turning over plain old “new leaves.” From now on, the only kind I’ll be turning over will be “proverbial new leaves.” Nothing livens up a cliché like “proverbial.” It wafts away the tiredness effortlessly, like a breath of fresh air. A proverbial breath of fresh air.
Who knew writing could be so easy?
What about you? What’s your resolution?