I used to have a secret desire to become a Great Australian Novelist, a desire that led me to study Professional Writing and Editing at (what is now) Deakin University. I got good marks for my first – and last – short story, but my teacher pointed out the number of times I used the word ‘it’.
It, it’s, thing, anything, something and everything are imprecise words. Today, as I sit my clients’ words, I am ruthless with the word ‘thing’ and pretty tough on ‘it’. I replace ‘thing’ or ‘it’ with words that more exactly describe what the author intended. And, if I cannot guess, I send their manuscript back to ask for clarification.
Precise words fill your readers’ minds with precise images. Can you imagine a thing? I can’t. By removing vague words, you will help your readers understand and remember your ideas.
The things we do for love
We often use the word ‘thing’ in conversation: You know that thing? We did some lovely things when I was on holiday. Quite often, ‘thing’ simplifies the complex. In the song, “The Things We Do for Love”, the phrase means that we behave in many strange, inexplicable ways – too many to mention – when we are in love.
Such brevity and vagueness work in a song (perhaps), but your book needs precision. If your book idea is a diamond when you start writing, it is a rough diamond. By writing, you cut the idea from different angles so that light catches its every facet. You shave away the dull bits so the diamond shines brightly.
When to use thing
It is fine to fill your first draft with ‘things’, and come back to make your writing more precise. If you are recording your first draft – and I recommend that you do—you will discover how often you use the word. And when you edit, you will see why you do so: it’s quite hard to find the precise words to replace ‘thing’. Here are some tips.
How to get rid of things
LEAVE THE WORD OUT
Time is a precious thing, so we should make the best use of it.
Time is precious, so we should make the best use of it.
CHOOSE A MORE PRECISE WORD
There are places where this kind of thing happens all the time.
There are places where this kind of rudeness happens all the time.
Among the things found were jumpers, shoes, and handkerchiefs.
Among the clothes found were jumpers, shoes, and handkerchiefs.
CHANGE YOUR SENTENCE TO THE ACTIVE VOICE
I feel depressed because there are a lot of things I have to do.
I have so much to do; I feel depressed.
This house was the first thing my parents ever bought together.
At your second draft, be ruthless with things. And while you are at it, see if you can detonate something, it, anything, everything and stuff.
PS: Want more? You may like: What the best business book writers do every day.