Writer’s Workshop: Improve FLOW by Removing 3 Words

I love writing that flows. When I read a book, I like to feel as if I’m riding a wave or listening to a smooth melody where the notes come together in concert to create beautiful harmony. When writing flows, you don’t want to abandon it. In fact, you may re-read sentences just to appreciate the beauty.

How do writers combine words to create flow? One way is to follow a specific rule. Now, I know in the last Writer’s Workshop I told you to dismiss rules, but I should’ve added the word sometimes.

So, here’s the advice: Remove these three words as much as possible: that, adverbs ending in -ly, and the.

THAT is considered a filler word, meaning it just adds space on the page. As much as possible go through your writing and try to delete “that.” It will make your writing and message much cleaner. Here’s an example:

She had made Daddy promise that he would come straight home.

*She had made Daddy promise he would come straight home.

Do you see what I mean? The word “that” doesn’t add more meaning to this sentence. It just increases your word count. This isn’t to say you never need “that” in writing. Sometimes there’s no way around it. But if you can do without “that,” remove it.

ADVERBS ending in -ly can also be cumbersome. The rule here is to replace -ly words (i.e., quickly, smoothly, etc.) with actual descriptions of what you’re talking about. Here’s an example of replacing adverbs.

“Well, I guess I’ll sit out here and keep you company. You sure look pretty.” He smiled sheepishly and nodded approvingly.

*“Well, I guess I’ll sit out here and keep you company. You sure look pretty.” He smiled and nodded at approval of my dress.

Sheepishly and approvingly drag the sentence along. Here you have two choices: remove the adverb altogether or remove the -ly and add descriptions instead as this author did.

THE is a little trickier, which is why I’ve left it for the end. Although it is natural to use “the” when speaking, a lot of times this small word can bog down your writing. “The” is not always necessary. Don’t believe me? Go check out your favorite piece of writing. I bet “the” is used sparingly. Here’s an example of what I mean:

            We cut out the clothing we thought would look good on me.

            **We cut out clothing we thought would look good on me.

Here, “the” isn’t needed. If you can understand the sentence without using “the,” then ditch it.

I hope these three tips help to improve your writing, but I suggest trying one rule out at a time and only after you’ve written a draft. Editing and writing at the same time can oftentimes destroy your flow.

*The first two examples come from Mbinguni’s Looking for Hope, which I also recommend reading.

**The third example is from Sister Souljah’s A Deeper Love Inside.

Both were written perfectly in their books. I added the fake, bold first draft example.

If you’re interested in hearing more about my personal writing process and flow, then my talk with the Pasadena City College English Department may interest you: PCC Visiting Writer K. E. Garland.


97 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Improve FLOW by Removing 3 Words

  1. I took your advice!!!!!!!! In my new blog post I tried very hard to avoid ‘the’, ‘that’ and ‘-ly’ words. And I LOVE ‘-ly’ words. Of course there are still some in there, but I tried!!! I love learning. Thank you for teaching me a new thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read this last night, and it made me really happy to hear! Was it the hurricane one where you tried to remove words? That one was really tight writing, I think. Very descriptive.


  2. Oh my goodness so after reading your post I went back over the post I wrote for today and came to realize… I’m the QUEEN of “That” 😱. Oh boy! So I edited what I wrote and took them out, re-worked and re-read it… What a huge difference!! Thanks for your help today. I’ll definitely work on the word “The” and things that end in “ly”. I’m so glad you posted this today!! You helped level up my writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The only example I don’t agree with is for ly, they described how they felt in their smile, by removing sheepishly and not replacing it with “…He half smiled…”or “…Slightly embarrassed, he smiled…” it takes away from the scene.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mean…I disagree, of course. Adverb tend to bog down a sentence. On the other hand, I’m not saying never use them, but perhaps use them sparingly lol see what I did there 😉


  4. Good advice. I also agree with not editing until a draft is finished. I used to start each day editing what I wrote the day before and it bogs down my flow. Last November I did NaNoWriMo and wrote 50,000 words without one edit. It was liberating.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good stuff, (he said interestingly) 😉 I over use ‘that’ (was pointed out me my editor) So at the end of every chapter I type ‘that’ into Find on Word. It’s a satisfyingly, fascinatingly and deeply moving experience. 😂 Love your little tips 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for the tips. Interesting (omitted -ly on purpose based on your post, else would have used it 😊) though that Grammarly adds it back to ensure flow! Have to return to my omitting them again.
    Useful advice as always.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Those are good points! I especially liked the part about adverbs needing ly, because your suggestions were still grammatically correct. Personally, whenever I edit my writing, I remove word and sentences (and sometimes whole paragraphs). Every word should be necessary, and the sentences should flow seamlessly. I don’t always achieve that, especially in comment sections, but it’s always my goal!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I forget where I learned that rule “Every word should be necessary.” Whoever it was also told me that each word should move the story along…maybe that’ll be my next Writer’s Workshop.

      Comment sections don’t count lol

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for sharing!!… I will have to make notes of your suggestions!!.. normally, I just let my fingers do the walking (typing/writing) and my heart do the talking!!.. 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May your day be touched
    by a bit of Irish luck,
    Brightened by a song
    in your heart,
    And warmed by the smiles
    of people you love.
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 5 people

  9. I think I use ‘that’ too much, and ‘just’ too. But you know what? I actually don’t mind adverbs as much, because those depend on context more than anything else. They work great in humour, for one. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Wonderful suggestions, Katherin. I intuitively remove “that” quite often. So much of this is applicable to song lyrics. I have consistently removed these words from my songs (that, and, but). The simplicity allows the message to more clearly be heard!

    Liked by 4 people

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