That’s all.

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While writing for my weekly blog feature, ‘Thoughts for Friday’, I was struck by the realisation of how many times I use the word ‘that’ in the first drafts of my writing. I’m sure I am not the only person who would admit to doing so – my writing partner confessed recently that she does exactly the same thing.

At first I put it down to the fact that I’m a Brit (we like to use 100 words when 10 will usually suffice), I had assumed my excessive verbiage was nothing more than a toffee-nosed, patriotic Englishwoman exercising her God-given right to use as many words of her mother tongue as humanly possible in one sentence.

Using so many superfluous words does tend to make one sound awfully posh, doesn’t it? It’s just a shame that creating the world’s most convoluted sentence won’t win you many admirers for your potentially publishable prose.

The truth is that I am not actually all that posh (though I am 100% British). I have an awful accent which is not in any way in keeping with the clichéd idea of a Brit. My language skills and mockney-cockney accent are not exactly worthy of Cambridge scholars. In fact, I am the least posh Brit you are ever likely to stumble across.

So why do I always feel the need to add so many extra words to a sentence? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I try each day to get as many words written as possible so I can then pat myself on the back at the end of each month when I read over my word count: ‘Blimey, Heather. You sure wrote a lot of words this month!’ I gleefully tell myself at the month’s end, feeling superior to the mere amateur writer I was last year.

But is adding superfluous words that you know you’re going to take out on second, third and fourth drafts really cheating? Why shouldn’t I try to nail down as many words as I can each day? Surely it doesn’t matter if I take them back out again, they still count – right?

My mother once told me that I would have made a great politician. I think she meant in regard to my excessive verbiage and that I could talk at someone for hours, throwing multiple convoluted sentences at them until they admitted defeat and subsequently begged for mercy for their poor, bashed-into-submission ears.

Maybe I think it makes me sound more intelligent if I use more words than are strictly necessary when making a point about something. To be honest, it probably has the opposite effect and makes me look like nothing more than a waffling idiot.

I like to read and it is through doing so that I stumble across new words, ones which I file away in my mind for future use. Isn’t it only natural that I would want to use such words in my writing and show how cultured and well-educated I am?

The truth is that I am neither. I am just a writer afflicted by a condition that compels me to use more words than I actually need to. I am working hard on curbing my natural instinct to want to add so many unneeded words to my work and I thank the Lord that there are such things as second and third edits, otherwise this blog post would be 20-30% longer than it is now…..

When verbal diarrhoea strikes, I know a fool-proof cure to stop it dead in its tracks by remembering the age-old phrase: ‘Less is more.’

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26 Comments

Filed under Starting out

26 responses to “That’s all.

  1. Yeah, the “that” “rule” seems to be the only one I was actually aware of when I wrote my first book. After having another writer review my second, I was informed of the adverb “rule.” Blimey…

    • Gosh, there are so many damn rules, aren’t there? 😆

      All of those sneaky adverbs creeping into our writing, not to mention the superfluous amounts of the word ‘that’! It’s a wonder that we writers get anything written at all….

      I’m toying with the idea of a blog post that contains no mention of the word ‘that’ anywhere in it. Not sure if it is achievable, but it’ll be fun trying! 🙂

  2. I can relate! When I write I use too many words. When I talk…rarely any. LOL I tend to reflect more unless I’ve been drinking. Great post, Heather. I needed the laugh today.

    • Hi, Audrey, I’m glad the post made you laugh 🙂

      I think it is the curse of a writer’s first draft to have so many extra words finding their way into our work. My second and third drafts are usually at least 20-30% shorter than the original piece and don’t even get me started on how many extra words I use when I’ve been drinking, that’s another blog post all together….

  3. I share your affliction! Why write 20 words when 200 will suffice? Your post made me laugh. I am always removing unnecessary words from pieces that I write. (I’d like to write more in this reply, actually, but feel I’ve already covered everything – anything more would be… um… superfluous!) 🙂

    • Ahhh, the curse of superfluousness! Actually, that’s a great title for a blog post – I should have used that instead

      I am glad the post made you laugh, it was intended to be a humorous and slightly tongue in cheek look at editing a first draft. I think most writers are afflicted by the curse…. 🙂

      • Try saying ‘Curse of the Superfluousness’ ten times really fast and then have a drink… you’ll need one! I think I hurt myself trying! (grin) I loved the title ‘That’s All’ – it was absolutely perfect for this funny, on-target post.

      • Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, Kate 😎

        I’ve tried saying ‘The Curse of Superfluousness’ several times and I still can’t get it! 😯

  4. I feel you on this, I turn into a right ponce when I write! 😀 I don’t talk anywhere near as posh as write.

    • LOL, I love that!

      The good thing about writing is that the poor reader doesn’t have to hear our accent when reading the words. Although, that might be quite amusing….having someone with a terribly common accent reading Pride and Prejudice for example…. 😆

  5. I too suffer from a love/hate relationship with “that” and also had a brief love affair with the word “briefly” – (but only for a short time!) My first attempt to write something of substance was re-read, and I highlighted every use of “that” and “briefly”. It looked like someone cut themselves on my manuscript and bled all over the paper. Truly enjoyed your post!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog post, it is very much appreciated.

      I am very glad to hear I’m not the only one who has been afflicted by the ‘that’ curse! I also have a tendency to use the word ‘yet’ way too much as well. I find it rather frightening to re-read a first draft and realise how many ‘that’s I’ve put in there! 😆

      • It’s terrifying, isn’t it? I believe the scariest part of writing (besides the blank page of course), is the first edit and wondering how we could possibly use ‘that’, ‘yet’, and my word, ‘briefly’ so often! And we as readers think “that” thrillers are frightening…

      • If I think about it too hard it scares me to the point that I can’t even contemplate getting a decent result from my first draft! There are so many little superfluous words that seem to creep into our writing that it takes forever to weed them all back out again.

        Writing is blooming hard work, why do we continue to put ourselves through it? 😯

  6. Oh yes, I definitely put ‘that’ in my writing way too much. I, however don’t have a need for writing more. I actually try to write less. Does that make me simple? hmmmmmm…
    🙂
    Great post Heather.

    • Of course it doesn’t make you simple, Staci. It makes you a much more disciplined writer than I am!

      The general consensus seems to be that we’re all afflicted by the curse of the ‘that’…. 😆

  7. One of my professors freshman year hated long prepositional phrases and the word “that” with a passion. Taking a class with him helped me to realize just how wordy I can be when I write. I never noticed how many filler phrases I used! I’ve also written a blog post about wordiness: http://writingtutortips.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/the-importance-of-being-concise/

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, it is very much appreciated.

      It seems as if the word ‘that’ sneaks into the work of most writers and is of the most common afflictions. I can understand why one of your professors hated it – I hate the word too!

      I always have to curb my natural instinct to be overly wordy and I guess it is something I’ll always struggle with.

  8. Funny post Heather, and very true. We all have our writing vices don’t we? Mine is always wanted to describe things in sets of two, or often three, adjectives (e.g. “He slouched in his chair, exhausted and defeated.”). But, like you, I am able to cut down some of the wordiness through revision.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, it is very much appreciated.

      I feel your pain re using several adjectives in a sentence and it is still something that creeps into my writing from time to time. This is one of the reasons for editing an piece of writing several times before posting or publishing it, it is only through constant editing that we can pick up on such vices creeping into our writing.

  9. I have the same issue with “that”, lol. Great post! 🙂

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