The Final Issue, and Throw-Away Words

In today’s Journal

* This is the final issue
* Throw-Away and Lazy Words
* The Novel
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

This is the final issue

of the old Daily Journal. After today, free subscribers will receive the Journal only occasionally.

To continue receiving The New Daily Journal every day, please subscribe now with either a recurring donation of $3 per month or at least $36 per year. In doing so, each subscriber is paying me 5 cents per hour to keep the Journal coming.

This price will remain valid through June 30. Effective July 1, the price will increase to $5 per month and $60 per year (Stripe’s minimum).

If you’re looking to learn more about writing fiction, I recommend remaining subscribed to the Journal.

If you aren’t looking to write fiction, you can remain a free subscriber if you want, but also take a look at the Stanbrough Writes substack. In that one, I publish a free short story every week.

Throw-Away and Lazy Words

Chief among the throw-away words, those you should use as seldom as possible (or never), are these urgency stamps:

  • abruptly
  • immediately
  • instantly
  • instantaneously
  • quickly (when it isn’t necessary, e.g. “he quickly glanced at his watch”—the word “glanced” already implies “quick”)
  • suddenly

and I am sure there are others. Feel free to share those in a comment.

These words are meant to impress a sense of urgency on the reader. Ironically, they do the opposite. If the reader has to spend time reading “instantly” before he gets to read what actually happened, the ensuing action was delayed that long.

The delay might be only a split second, but it’s still a delay. Don’t interrrupt the reading of the story.

These words are also an author intrusion on the story.

Consider, no character would ever say “He immediately came at me.” The character would say “He came at me.” The author adds “immediately” because s/he isn’t sure the writer will “get it.”

Instead, trust your characters and just write what happened. The reader will infer that it happened “instantly” or “Immediately” etc. from the context.

As an aside, notice that all of those words are also adverbs.

I do not ascribe to the notion that you should “never” use adverbs (except in dialogue tags, e.g. “he said forlornly”). All words are meant to be used in context.

However, I DO recommend you use as few adverbs as possible and only when there’s no other way to cast the sentence and get the thought across.

Timestamps are also deserving of a look:

  • an instant
  • a second
  • a minute
  • an hour
  • a specific number of seconds, minutes, or hours

These are all indicative of a specific period of time, and their mention will force the reader to consider that specific passage of time.

Even writing the seemingly vague “a few minutes/hours/days” will force the reader to do math. And that will pull him from the story for a brief time. Don’t do it.

Words and phrases that are more vague are preferable:

  • moment/short moment/long moment (This is an indederminate amount of time that does not interrupt the reader. “Moment” can indicate a second or several seconds or a minute or several minutes.)
  • a few days/weeks/months later (This indicates a passage of time without forcing the reader to do the math.)

Writing something like “He looked at each one in turn” will also cause the reader to take the time to “look at each one in turn” and interrupt the story.

This too is an author intrusion. Instead, try “He glanced up” or “He looked at them.” Same effect, no delay.

Lazy (TOO vague) words and phrases also should be used as little as possible. Those listed here are thorns in my personal side:

  • it
  • there
  • there was
  • they

In my own fiction, I ususally correct these on the fly (yes, still in the creative subconscious).

For one example, in one scene of my current novel, a character is far out in the country and looking for water in order to refill a canteen. He’s just discovered a stone and concrete stock tank with a low trough circling it. I initially wrote the following two sentences:

  • The low trough circling the stock tank was filled with water, but it was more moss and algae than anything else. He stepped up onto it and peered over the wall of the tank.

Most readers would probably understand without a hitch. But not all of them would. Some would wonder what the “it” in the second sentence referred to. Did he have a box with him? A ladder?

So on the fly, I corrected those two sentences to read

  • The low trough circling the stock tank was filled with water, but it was more moss and algae than anything else. He stepped up onto the edge of the trough and peered over the wall of the tank.

Now there’s no doubt, no room for ambiguity.

Remember, what happens in the scene is ALWAYS up to the character. How it goes on the page is up to the writer.

If you can’t correct on the fly and if you’re one who is prone to doing an “editing pass,” you might consider looking for those urgency stamps, timestamps, and lazy words.

The Writing

I’ve had a few interesting days, as reflected in Numbers below. After several months, our house finally closed (yay). I’m also looking for a mechanically sound 1995 to 2004 Toyota Tacoma to buy, which is frustrating, and we had to get our ID cards renewed, which required a trip to the nearest base.

On top of all that, I couldn’t budge the novel.

Then it hit me: I’d written two chapters WAY out of sequence. So after three days of juggling personal matters and moving things around in the novel, I finally at least got that smoothed out.

I usually don’t write chapters out of order. I usually write from Once Upon a Time to The End. But apparently not this time. Now the former chapters 14 and 15 are chapters 9 and 10, and everything’s running again. An even bigger yay.

And tomorrow I get to launch The New Daily Journal!

Thanks to everyone who’s come aboard for your faith in me and the Journal. And an enthusiastic Congratulations on your investment in yourself as a writer and in your commitment to learn the craft. I’ll do my best not to let you down.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest


The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1070

Writing of When the Owl Calls (novel)

Day 1…… 1884 words. To date…… 1884
Day 2…… 3699 words. To date…… 5583
Day 3…… 2086 words. To date…… 7669
Day 4…… 3167 words. To date…… 10836
Day 5…… 4011 words. To date…… 14847
Day 6…… 1724 words. To date…… 16571
Day 7…… 1633 words. To date…… 18204

Fiction for May…………………….….… 35434
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 339219
Fiction since October 1………………… 642276
Nonfiction for May……………………… 29290
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 183630
2024 consumable words……………… 522849

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 90
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing are lies, and they will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.


4 thoughts on “The Final Issue, and Throw-Away Words”

  1. I’m not sure if you noted it or not, Harvey (I’ve been operating at or near mental capacity since February – thus my deplorable lack of creative output this year – so I could easily have missed it), but will this site/journal remain live?

    As to your comment on throw-away words, sometimes I’ll leave in a phrase like “he looked at each one of them in turn” to convey a specific depth or meaning within the context of that particular scene. Can it be rephrased, even then? Certainly, and I would never suggest otherwise. I’m just open to the possibility that the Story moving through me wants those words to be there, for whatever reason.

    Otherwise – yes, specificity rules, and thank you for the reminder!

    • Hi Peggy,

      Great questions, thanks.

      If by “will this the site/Journal remain live” you mean the website at (where we aer currently), yes it will once I work out a few glitches. Thanks to your question, I’ll address this in tomorrow’s post.

      Subscribers will be able to read the post either in their email (from Substack), on Substack, or at the Journal, but those who are not paid subscribers won’t be able to read the post in any venue without first signing up for a paid subscription. (To continue displaying it free at the Journal website would not be fair to those who subscribed or to me as the writer of paid content.)

      “Specificity rules.” Perfect. I’ll address this in tomorrow’s post as well. So thanks again.

      In my opinion, anything goes “to convey a specific depth or meaning within the context.” That said, if it were in my work, I would still strive to reword or rephrase anything that will cause the reader to do math (each one in turn) because it interrupts the reading.

      One way around it is to expand the scene slightly. In place of “he looked at each one of them in turn” you might try

      He looked at Martin. “Said something.”
      His gaze shifted to Mary. “Said something.”
      He looked from James to Susan and back. “Said something.”

      Figuring out your particular way around this problem is yet one more learning/realization experience. The good news is that once it’s settled you’ll never have to figure it out again. 🙂

      • Yes, I meant this site – thus violating my own precept of “Specificity rules!” GRIN


        • Nah, you did fine. I just misread it at first. Not to mention the comment was ON this site. (grin)

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