Here’s some advice I recently came across on tumblr, which is apparently the source of most of my critical thoughts these days. (Which is… terrifying, honestly, because the site is kind of a dumpster fire. Oops.) Technically it was referring to sending emails at work, but it applies to any kind of writing.
Edit out “just.”
As a word, just strives to lowball the statement it’s attached to. “I just wanted to check in to see…” “Just saying!” “It’s just that, I was thinking…”
No. You’re checking in about something for a reason! You said something for a reason! You were thinking something for a reason! Be firm, don’t let that insecurity shine through! And yet, I write this way all the time. Women, especially, tend to be socialized to apologize for any strong opinion or statement they have. There’s a whole bit about it in Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens, where the girls stranded on a dessert island vote to eject the word “sorry” from their vocabulary. (And then forget, say it, and are like, “Oops, I forgot. Sorry. Oops!!” Because hey, it’s a comedy.)
As I’ve recently started a new set of duties at my part time job, I’ve gone through the email templates and phone call scripts to… well, check the basic sentence structure and stuff, do my usual “too many of these sentences/paragraphs start with the same word and it’s driving me up the WALL” thing… but I’ve specifically edited out every instance of “just” I can find. The results are messages that sound a lot more sure of themselves. Especially when it comes to leaving voicemails, which, while often preferable to the hassle of having to utter words to a live stranger, actually records whatever comes out of your mouth for posterity.
I have yet to really wade neck-deep into editing “just” out of my fiction. There will definitely be exceptions, because a statement like “I just started a few days ago” doesn’t lowball so much as indicate that something happened quite recently. It’s going to depend on where the emphasis is.
What do you think? Are you prepared to go on a crusade against “just,” or any other words?