#Mentoring #WritingTips – Make Every Word Count

Today I want to address words and how to make them count. I know I’ll get some pushback on this from the masses but remember: these are only my opinions. Use what works for you.

When I start mentoring someone new, I ask them to go through their story and remove a certain word first thing. The word, “that”. This word is what I call an empty calorie (junk food) among the serving of healthy words. It’s become overused these days because it’s common speak (street talk, as I call it).

Try it. Go through one paragraph and remove the word that if it doesn’t change the sentence. Now read it again. Does it sound more concise? Do you miss the word if it’s gone? Does it give your sentence a “gut punch” effect? Finally, does it make your words and their delivery sound more confident?

Trust me, I still have to go through and remove them from my own writing. What I’ve noticed, however, is it’s such an overused and unnecessary word, it drenches the pages. I couldn’t believe it when I pulled 6 books off the shelf to peruse the first page, how many jumped off the page at me. I couldn’t continue reading because the sheer number of “that’s” took me out of the story before it ever began.

Go through your own story in Word. Do a word search for “that” and see how many times you’ve used it. Is it 20 times? 50? More?

The next step after removing unnecessary “that’s” is to search for any word ending in -ly.

Here’s where I get challenged most often: using an -ly adverb is lazy. I know. Hearing it stings. That’s what mentoring is, though. Correcting bad habits and creating good ones.

Ok, why do we remove them?

Reason number 1: Most -ly adverbs (quickly, slowly, quietly) can be considered perspective.

Example: He backed up slowly.

How slow? If someone is backing up, are they surprised? Afraid? Dizzy?

Try using your words and make them count.

He took a few steps back. Each step was tentative, seeking the ground beneath him to keep from tripping.

Or

I raised my hand in slow motion, the room spinning around me.

Or

Unsure of where the chair was, I took one slow step back before the other followed.

See how it gives the sentences a better visual? Instead of using “slowly” I gave a better idea of what slowly looked like.

Most times, you can change the position of a few words to eliminate the -ly word and it will make the sentence sound more confident, leaving the reader with a solid description of what’s happening. Adding -ly gives a meek sound to your words and gives the impression of a week vocabulary.

Are you up for the challenge? Give this a try and let me know if it worked for you. Do you feel it made your story more confident sounding? I’d love to hear from you!


If you love these tips and want more, please comment and share!

Step 1: Begin

One of the hardest things to remember in any part of your life is to stop and return to the beginning. Think about it for a moment: You’re deep within a plot of a story you began with so much excitement. You’re staring at the words but you get frustrated because something isn’t right. Maybe the characters are flat, your protagonist isn’t doing what (s)he’s supposed to, or perhaps you can’t figure out where to go next.

Any of this sound familiar?

When I mentor, one of the things I try to convey is how to keep connecting things. Connections are a constant reminder to your reader. It says, “Hey, pay attention”, and it gives tiny fireworks of moments to the readers mind.

They don’t have to be big things. It may be a secret thought, something subtle and delicate, connecting your character and the reader. But it makes the connection personal and intimate, and in turn, unforgettable.

It can also create a three dimensional version of your character, allowing the suspension of believability to become stronger.

Example: Your character seems to know a lot for their age.

Go back to step one. The character knows a lot because…?

  1. Maybe they were a gifted student
  2. One of their parents taught them things at an advanced level due to their own level of expertise
  3. They were part of an experiment which enhanced their learning capabilities
  4. They are supernatural (vampire, werewolf, etc)

Do you see how it gives opportunity for storytelling? You know these things about your character. Now you have to create this for the reader without a boring info dump.

Which is more engaging?

Marie was smarter than most girls at her school. She was always getting A’s without ever studying.

Or

Marie glanced at the page. Her father taught her to speed read as a child, allowing her to take in more information at a rapid rate. She smiled when she overheard her classmates making up wild stories of how she never studied.

In the second example we are in on the secret. We know Marie’s dad taught her to speed read, she enjoyed the speculation from her classmates, and it increases our perception of who Marie really is.

When I write, I like to create time lines. When your eye has a guide, it stays focused. I know where my story starts and where it ends. Everything between must connect the two points. If I get stuck, I slide back to step one.

Who is my main character?

What is the connection between the main character and the story?

What is the conflict?

What is the resolution?

Asking these questions will always circle you back to the beginning. Knowing your roots is only the first part. Letting them expand and settle into the earth is a skill we can all learn.


If this article has helped, please pass it on and comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts!