LizAnn Carson

Releasing stories into the world


About ‘Just’

If there’s one single thing that’s improved my writing (other than practice), it’s becoming aware of just, that pesky, useful nuisance of an adverb.

Just is on my mind because I’ve just (!) finished spending a big chunk of the morning going through Mel, the third book in the Calder Creek series, seeking out and destroying just wherever I can.

Think about this little word for a minute. We don’t really notice it, but it’s everywhere. It has multiple meanings and uses, and sometimes it’s exactly the word we need. Sometimes it’s not. I’m sure I’m not the only writer out there who has a propensity to overuse it. I have a few other seek-and-destroy words and phrases, too, like beginning sentences with and or but, but nothing has crisped up my writing like eliminating the overwhelming number of justs in my text.

Here’s an overview of the questions I ask when I’m on the hunt for just. gives these definitions for the adverb just:

  1. within a brief preceding time, but a moment before;
  2. exactly or precisely;
  3. by a narrow margin; barely;
  4. only or merely; and
  5. actually, really, positively.

1. How about “I just spoke to him.” You could eliminate just with some sentence modification, like, “I spoke to him a minute ago.” In terms of dialogue, to me the former sounds more casual than the latter, so rely on your characters and the context.

2. “This arrangement is just about perfect.” Change it to, “This arrangement is almost perfect,” and you have the same meaning. In this case, though, you need to consider the distinctive voice of your character. There are two ‘just abouts’ left in Mel. I left them because they sounded right for the character speaking. Writing is an art, after all! On the other hand, if the sentence was, “This day is just horrible,” I think you might question whether the ‘just’ does any good at all.

3. “You just missed her.” Can you change this bit of dialogue to get rid of just? You could try something like, “She left about thirty seconds ago,” or the more blunt, “You missed her.” Test it against your scene and see what works.

4. “It’s just that I really wanted to go to a movie.” You could change it to, “But I really wanted to go to a movie,” or, “I really wanted to go to a movie,” but to me they carry a slightly different emotional load. Is it close enough to the same in the context of your story to make the change?

5. In a dialogue, my character might say, “I just thought you’d understand.” Is there any fundamental difference between that and “I thought you’d understand”? I don’t think so; or at least not enough to leave in the extra word.

In going through my manuscript, I probably removed two-thirds of the justs. The first time I did this, with Seducing Adam, I couldn’t believe how much crisper the dialogue sounded. The whole book came more into focus.

So, search out your justs. Love the ones that belong there – but question every one! And don’t be surprised if there are far more than you expected.

(This has been a look at one of the exciting ways a writer spends her time. Honestly, does this qualify as a life? If you’re a writer, you accept that this type of morning is one of the facts of the writing life, so you might as well embrace it, laugh at it, enjoy it. At least know that it’s one step in producing the best book you can.)



One Week to Launch – Give or Take

What happens when you’re within, say, a week of seeing your first book published?

Nothing. As far as ordinary living is concerned, you cease to exist.

Because there’s no time; you have a gazillion things to do. There’s no space in your brain box; your neural pathways are basically fried. You are, in a word, obsessed.

So anything approaching normal life is out the window. Back-burnered. Non-existent.

Furthermore, you risk nervous wreck-hood. The house doesn’t get cleaned. The meals get made, provided that making them involves taking them out of the freezer and heating them. You’re up an hour earlier than usual, because you know – you know – that there are typos in there you haven’t found, or that the last cut-and-paste left half a paragraph missing.

You know that the whole thing should be rewritten. Because it isn’t good enough, is it? Is it? Maybe it is. Never mind, you can always tack on another hour at the end of the day.

And then there’s everything that goes with the launch date. Formatting and learning how to submit to – in this case – Kindle. Write the blog, get the new page up there. And then there’s the dreaded publicity thing. Sad but very true to say, social media and I seem to live on different planets. I write this blog, and I’ve made a stab at Google + (since I seem to have ended up on it by default anyway), but somehow I can’t get into it.

Did I mention that I picked this moment in my life (thank you, Black Friday) to buy my first Windows 8 computer? Truth to tell, I’m afraid to turn it on. Maybe next week.

Okay. Calm. Focus. Here’s the deal. I’m working  toward a launch of Seducing Adam next week, on Kindle, a little later in paperback. I can do this. I. Can. Do. This. There seems to be a combination of excitement and terror and too-much-to-do-at-once that rolls over all the good intentions. And naturally I’m convinced about those typos and missing chunks of paragraphs, so in the re-read of course I’m finding things to re-word, to clean up, to enhance, to … to … oh heck.

Did I mention my thumbs? Woke up this morning with aches in both thumbs. Who knew that being a romance novelist was dangerous to your health? Typing is a challenge this morning, which may mean it’s time to stop for coffee and a scone, give the poor thumbs a rest.

Do you have time for coffee and a scone? Really? Can you edit while you eat? Don’t stop. Don’t stop!

Okay, time for some balance. I could revise Seducing Adam until the proverbial cows come home. My deadlines are self-imposed. Sometimes it’s a better plan to remember to take a breath. Enjoy the scone. Go to yoga. Or at least, get up from the computer and go see if the sun is shining. (I call my dark little office space “The Cave”.)

I hope that next week I’ll be announcing a book launch. Today, I’m showing off a book cover and a blurb. Look for the new page – and fingers crossed, everyone. Here comes the plunge.