Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Throw Out the Crutches When You Write

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

I buggered up my knee. It wasn't one of my more graceful moments and of all things, I let the competitive side of me win. "Let Grace have the chair. You don't need to win the game."

But noooo! I made a dash for sole surviving chair. It was between Grace and me . . . Grace won. Me, well, I caught my boot on the carpet, sailed into the air, and landed like a half-ton of bricks on my knees. Short version: torn ligament, broken patella. Yep, I needed crutches. I declined them and decided to push through, and find better ways to walk and strengthen my knee.

Early in my writing career, I had writing crutches . . .  words that, though they sounded really spiffy, were a lazy form of writing. I needed to push past them to improve. They were words that sounded well placed but as time and experience taught, proved to make my writing stilted and wordy. I learned not to write to impress, rather write to improve.
Don't let adverbs weigh down your writing.
Adverbs like actually, literally, basically, soon began to weigh down my work. These words do nothing for your sentence other than add to the word count and lessen the strength of the sentence.

Actually, she should have never gone with Joe to the market, can be improved by saying what is important. She shouldn't have gone with Joe to the market. A vast improvement in sentence value - yes?

Literally is a word we tend to use figuratively. Which, by the way is an adverb used correctly.
I literally jumped out of my skin.
The truth is - I have yet to leave my skin crumbled in a pile on the floor where I literally, jumped out.  I jumped out of my skin.

These pesky LY words do have a purpose, but we sometimes allow them to be the catch all or the crutch that prevents us from stretching our writing wings and developing our ability to write descriptively. There is a time and a place for these adverbs. Study and learn when and how to use them to your benefit rather than your demise.

Follow these tips to strengthen your writing legs . . . and toss the crutches:

1. Sentences like:
Basically, I can guide them down without written directions.
Actually, she traveled alone.
However, I must seek other opinion.

Are stronger without the adverb.
I can guide them without written directions.
She traveled alone.
I must seek other opinion.

2. Practice your writing skills. Dig deeper for a stronger, more descriptive way to write.
Go from this:
Fiercely, the pot lid shook as the water inside rose to a boil. Sweet memories gingerly floated in her mind of her momma. The water bubbled violently, popping onto her skin and burning her. Maddie closed her eyes, intentionally taking in a long breath and holding the scent of coffee in her lungs. Expectantly, bad memories seeped in from the past. Memories of a simpler time. Memories when things were better.

To this:
The lid of a brass pot popped up and down. Coffee bubbled and spit around its edges. Pictures of her mother slaving over a hot stove flashed through her mind. Splatters of hot liquid tingled against her skin. Maddie closed her eyes, tilted her nose upward, and took in a slow, intentional breath. Her lungs filled with the scent of coffee. Her mouth filled with saliva, and the bittersweet smell dragged back memories of a time past.  A time when life was simple.  A time when . . . well, a better time.

3. Learn and accept there are always better words. Keep a teachable spirit and never marry your words. There is always room for improvement. Always a better description or a clearer sentence.

4. Practice, practice, practice self-editing. Spend time sharpening these skills and you'll be astounded at the improvement in your writing.

Writing is a process. One that requires continued study. Throw out the crutches and grasp hold of the determination to push through. You'll be glad you did.

What have you done to toss out your writing crutches? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Throw out the crutches when you #write - wise advice from author @CindyDevoted on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

We all use them - #writing crutches - author @CindyDevoted shares ways to get rid of them on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Cindy Sproles is an author and popular speaker. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions ministries and managing editor of Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Cindy is the executive editor of www.christiandevotions.us and www.inspireafire.com. She teaches at writers conferences nationwide and directs The Asheville Christian Writers Conference - Writers Boot Camp. 

She is the author of two devotionals, He Said, She Said - Learning to Live aLife of Passion and New Sheets - Thirty Days to Refine You into theWoman You Can Be. Cindy's debut fiction novel, Mercy's Rain, is available at major retailers. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com and book her for your next conference or ladies retreat. Also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Thank you so much for this. As a new writer this has given me much to chew on. I use the word "actually" too much. I have introduced my sister to this blog. She has been writing for years.

  2. Cindy! Yeowch! A broken patella is bad! I researched it for my sophomore novel and I decided my character did NOT break hers. You poor thing. I broke my thumb once during dress rehearsal for a show. Another character and I dove over a sofa. I'd done the stunt several times, but that night I miscalculated things and broke my thumb. I guess I'm not as young as I used to be. lol

  3. I used these words a lot way back when. Now I know better and find these words stick out like a sore thumb when I see them in books. The word THAT has the same effect on me.