Skip to main content

Put THAT Thing Away!

Be careful; it's easy to do. That is, it's easy to write in a way that overuses that word "that." Or in other words, it's easy to overuse the word "that."

Look: I used to be a major offender myself. Of all places, a techincal writing course helped me improve my "that" problem across the board, not to mention turn me into a list consistency freak.

Here's a sample of how "that" can slow down a poem in a bad way:

The man ran miles and miles
for that woman that could've
done so much for him so that
he wasn't sure what he'd do
now that he spent his nights
alone listening to that same
old Louis Armstrong record
playing that "Mack the Knife"
song.

It's funny how once you get started on "that" word "that," it's often hard to stop. In line 2, "that" even took the place of what should be a "who." "That" is a very typical "that" problem, in fact. With a little cleaning, this could read as:

The man ran miles and miles
for the woman who could've
done so much for him he
wasn't sure what he'd do
now that he spent his nights
alone listening to the same
old Louis Armstrong record
playing "Mack the Knife."

This little piece went from 6 uses of "that" to 1 through some simple clean up. While this piece is just an example and not meant to win any awards for great writing, it is definitely tighter for doing a "that" scan.

So be on the lookout for "that," because it could improve your writing just like "that." (Oh jeez, I'm coming up with some horrible "that" jokes, eh?)

Best,

Robert

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not having an online presence.

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Physician, cartoonist, and author Shirlene Obuobi discusses the writerly advice that led to writing her new coming-of-age novel, On Rotation.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Kimo Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the kimo.

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

Tattoos and their artists can reveal interesting details about your characters and offer historical context. Here, author June Gervais shares 8 things writers should know about tattoos.

Tyler Moss | Reporting Through Lens of Social Justice

Writing Through the Lens of Social Justice

WD Editor-at-Large Tyler Moss makes the case for reporting on issues of social justice in freelance writing—no matter the topic in this article from the July/August 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave clues for people to find them.

Sharon Maas: On Books Finding the Right Time

Sharon Maas: On Books Finding the Right Time

Author Sharon Maas discusses the 20-year process of writing and publishing her new historical fiction novel, The Girl from Jonestown.

6 Steps to Becoming a Good Literary Citizen

6 Steps to Becoming a Good Literary Citizen

While the writing process may be an independent venture, the literary community at large is full of writers who need and want your support as much as you need and want theirs. Here, author Aileen Weintraub shares 6 steps in becoming a good literary citizen.

Daniel Paisner: On the Pursuit of a Creative Life

Daniel Paisner: On the Pursuit of a Creative Life

Journalist and author Daniel Paisner discusses the process of writing his new literary fiction novel, Balloon Dog.