That, it, and other pet peeves

I think most writers have words we feel are terrible.  No matter their use these words make us reject our own prose and lead to revision nightmares.  Not only do we feel our work is crapptasic, but we can't overlook our own idiosyncrasies.


“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day... fifty the day after that... and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”
— Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I love adverbs.  Those "ly" ending words add life to boring sentences.  Except they don't do they?  What they add to is my revision pile.  I, like Stephen King, can't seem to jettison all of them, but I do try.  I think I am at the point where I fail, and then try to fail better.


I really dislike "that."  I would venture to guess the word can be deleted from ninety-nine percent of the time from a sentence.  Pick up any book, and see how long it takes you to find "that."  Not long?  Now, try the sentence without "that."  Did it still say the same thing?  What is the "that" referring to?  Something the author said in a precious sentence, or nothing at all?

Here is an example from Struck and White:

She knew that she could do it.
She knew she could do it.
— Strunk and White, pg 78

Here is an example of the 1% of the time you should keep "that:"

He felt that his big nose, which was sunburned, made him look ridiculous.

He felt his big nose...
— Strunk and White pg. 78

When in doubt, say the sentence out loud.  Speech often uses "that" as a "defining or restrictive pronoun" (Strunk and White, pg 59).  Sometimes we lean a little too heavy on "that."  "That" can lead to sloppy sentences where you aren't actually saying what you mean to.


I seem to use "it" in sentences when I want to vary my words.  I don't want to keep referring to whatever "it" is.  I have a habit of using the same words over and over again in a day's writing.  After one writing session I realized I had used the word "simply" seven times in a 1000 word session.  Not only was it awful to read over and over again, but the adverb thing hurt my head.

What is the "it" referring to? Probably something you referenced already.  Example:  The table looked beautiful.  It was full of glassware and silver.  That "it" meant I didn't have to use the word table again, right?  There is probably another way to get around using the word table again, but I seem to rely to much on "it" to get me to where I need to go. I could make an entirely new sentence altogether.  The surface glowed as candlelight bounded off the crystal glass and polished silver.  So if I dig a little deeper, I might find a new and better way to say something instead of "it."

If you don't own a Stunk and White "Elements of Style," go find one.  They can be found everywhere.  It's simple to read, and helps me figure out pesky issues I have with my comma addiction.

Hoping you find a new way to say something.