The Naked Writer



It seems to me that a lot of writers start their sentences with an “it” that has no specific meaning. I try to end this type of errant behavior in students when I spot it. Actually, I’ve tried for years, but to little avail. I’m pretty sure you do this terrible thing, too, so let me attempt to stop you here and now.

Go back to the first sentence above. Why do I say “it seems”? I must have all the time in the world and can delay getting to the sentence subject. I must have all the space in the world, too, and can slip in as many useless words as I want.

Would the sentence suffer very much if I said, “I’ve found that…”? Actually, I think that would be a more direct means of stating my case—and a word saver, too. Let’s save words. That is, I mean, let’s be economical.

Day in and day out, I see sentences that start with “it.” People apparently go unconscious when they come to their use of the word as a subject. Let me put the case this way: “It” is a pronoun that stands in for something. Yes, the “it” can stand in for a concept or for something concrete.

When “it” stands in for a concrete antecedent, more power to the cute little word.

I attempted to jump over the fence. It caught me by the trousers and wouldn’t release me.

We know in this sentence that the “it” stands in for “fence.” We could state the situation in a grander way, but this will suffice.

I had gone with him to the music festival every year. It had become a habit.

What had become a habit? Yes, I know, but would restating the obvious be so very terrible?

I had gone with him to the music festival every year. Our going together every April had become a habit.

Might that not be a little better? We can expand the meaning and clarify with the restatement.

“It” is used oh so very often to stand in for complex concepts. A rewording of the idea can give a slightly different view of the matter and relieve the readers’ worries that they might have misunderstood.

In some instances, I’ll pass by the dreadful ‘it was” sentence start: It was raining. It was July. It was late.

But still, I do think these can be better set forth as well.

The rain began to come down in sheets. Ugh! Of course, rain could be expected here in July, our local monsoon season. Now, at eight at night, I hoped the downpour would end so I could go home without being drenched.

I can just about always find a quite serviceable, even delightful, substitute for the “it.” So can you if you understand why that makes your writing better and if you’re not lazy.

Don’t be indolent. Take a class with me. I have several coming up at Writer’s Digest.

07/21/2016 – 10/13/2016 Fundamentals of Fiction

07/28/2016 – 09/22/2016 Revision & Self Editing

07/28/2016 – 09/18/2016 Writing the Mystery Novel

08/11/2016 – 09/22/2016 The Art of Storytelling 102: Showing vs. Telling

08/25/2016 – 10/6/2016 Writing the Mystery Novel

Okay, just lie around and read if you like. Have a look at Question Woman & Howling Sky. Or study up on writing style by downloading The Naked Writer for the Kindle (the publisher still swears it will come out in print).

FYI, the publisher at Denouement Literary Agency, which publishes two traditional imprints, is looking for editors who are good at grammar and mechanics. Email

The Naked Writer

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