Kathleen’s Five-Minute Writing Tip

Kathleen Kaska
3 min readJun 8, 2022
Texas Style

Ten Needless Words You Should Consider Deleting

After finishing my latest manuscript, I hunted through it for overused words. Just, that, and then find their way into my writing as easily as pine needles find their way to my carpet. (I live in the Pacific Northwest.)

Consider this sentence:

I really just wonder that perhaps if I sit my butt down in my rather comfy chair and not leap up every time the phone rings, I’d get more writing done.

If all the needless words were omitted, it would be a much tighter sentence. (This example is an exaggeration; even a novice writer wouldn’t create such a mess!) Here it is again, minus a few needless words:

If I sit my butt in my comfy chair and not leap every time the phone rings, I’d get more writing done.

This sentence is much more concise. Five words were removed from the beginning (really, just, wonder, that, perhaps) and replaced with if. Rather was also removed. My chair is comfy — period. But now that I think about it, I’d also delete comfy. You don’t want to be too relaxed, or your face might end up on your keyboard. Up was removed because in what other direction would you leap from a chair? (I guess you could leap down from a chair if you were standing on it, but that’s not the case in this sentence.)

The following ten sentences each include one of the words from the above list. If they’re omitted, you’ll find they’re not missed.

Did you think that I would leave you stranded alone in the woods? [If you remove that, the sentence is still correct.]

My kayak was sinking and I just had to get ahold of myself. [Just isn’t necessary. It causes a pause and removes the tension from the action.

I really like adding jalapeños to my banana and peanut butter sandwich. [Sometimes really can sound pleading. If you like this food combination, don’t worry about convincing anyone: claim your preference and enjoy it!]

I ate the entire plate of nachos and now I feel rather stuffed. [Stuffed is stuffed, as in not possible to fit any more food into your stomach — ditch rather.]

I ate the entire thing!

Perhaps if I tried to concentrate harder, I would have finished my manuscript sooner. [There’s no perhaps about it!]

I turned on my heel, then slammed the door in his face, then later wished I hadn’t been so hostile.

[Adding then several times makes the sentence sound like a six-year old wrote it. Instead: I turned on my heel, slammed the door in his face, and later wished I hadn’t been so hostile.]

My heart leapt up when I received a call from Publishers’ Clearing House. [Omit up; again, how else can one’s heart leap?]

I set my empty beer mug down on the bar. [Down can be removed. You couldn’t set a mug up on a bar unless you were a very short person.]

“We’re not quite there yet.” [Yet and quite mean the same thing. Yet indicates a further distance is necessary. Remove quite. “We’re not there yet” is clear enough.]

“I wonder if you would remove your dog’s teeth from my ankle?” [Does one have to wonder about this? Dog teeth embedded in your ankle doesn’t warrant a wishy-washy request. In fact, the first five words can go — begin with Remove and conclude with an exclamation point.]

These ten words (that, just, really, rather, perhaps, then, up, down, quite, and wonder) are necessary in certain instances. But perhaps you should just take care not to really overuse them when they’re not quite necessary.

Kathleen Kaska

Metaphor Writing Coach. Author of the Sydney Lockhart mysteries and the Kate Caraway mysteries. I blog about, “Growing Up Catholic in a Small Texas Town.”