Be Gutsy: Cut out “Kind of” and “Sort of”

 Jump! Fly! Fall! Be gutsy!

One of my writing teachers made a great point the very first day of my M.F.A. program. She noticed that the young writers today seemed to be lacking in courage when compared to the writing of the past. There has been an enormous proliferation of “kind of” and “sort of” in writing, she noticed. Now, when a young writer describes something or makes an analogy, we inevitably hear that this is kind of like that, or he was sort of mad, or the sky was a kind of blue. Other words like that had been crowding into our stories: we would say that a person seemed sad, or that the candle flame seemed to be fluttering. My teacher was right; all of these little verbal tics begin to add up to a general weakening of the piece, creating a lack of authority and confidence in the writing.

Is self-consciousness making us poorer writers?

The fact is that when we read good writing, we don’t want to see the writer biting his fingernails, hemming and hawwing, unwilling to commit to a certain analogy. When we say “kind of”, we’re basically saying, “Oh, I don’t really mean this is like that. I’m just saying halfway.” I wonder if the increase of this phenomenon in writing has something to do with the Facebook-oriented world we’re currently living in. When everyone is putting their public lives on display in the social networking craze, then every aspect of our lives, even our language, becomes a performance. And when our language is a performance, then we end up policing ourselves, opting for safer, blander statements to avoid offending people or sticking out.

After the jump: going gutsy.

Breathe in and take the plunge.

Once we’re able to recognize these self-conscious apologies in our writing, then we can do something about it. For starters, in the editing round of your work you can search for half-hearted phrases like “kind of”, “sort of”, and “seems”, and strike them out. Stop apologizing for the observation you’ve made — say something IS something else. Be bold and destructive! In your new work, take a deep breath. No one is going to judge you for saying something wrong — or if they are, that shouldn’t stop you. Now go gutsy. Make a bold claim. Assert something that is completely, wildly false. Make your character an extremist, or someone who is extremely unlikeable. The books you love are full of these bold events and people, so you’ve got to possess the same boldness. And for goodness’ sake, stop worrying about what people think of you. It’ll never get you anywhere in your own writing and art.


  1. Lauren says:

    You remind me of that Oscar Wilde quote – ‘Be yourself; everyone else is taken’. If we constantly hold ourselves back for fear of ridicule – and I understand that feeling perfectly – we’re not writing or being ourselves.

  2. mary brady says:

    I believe this ‘tentative’ writing is a carryover from today’s equally tentative speech patterns. Most people say “kinda like, uhm, you know,…” twelve times in a single statement. No, they say it that many times in a single fragment of a statement.

    It drives me nuts to hear this type of speech. Young women are some of the worst offenders. I’ve watched televised events held before assemblies of young female Ivy League college graduates. When it came time for their comments, I could not believe how they spoke. Each had a high-pitched, ‘little girl’ voice & every one of them made assertions sound like questions.

    You know how, like, you can, y’know, raise your voice at the END? Like it’s a QUESTION? And how it, like, kinda drives you NUTS AFTER AWHILE? And the tentative writing, well, I think maybe it’s sorta RELATED? To, like, THAT? MAYBE?

    You may think I am generalizing. I am not. Every young woman at this event (covered by Book TV on C-Span) spoke this way. As a rapidly aging matron, I advise younger women to practice pitching their voices a bit lower & to simply allow silence to reign before saying “kinda” & “like.”

    And, for the sake of God, stop ending statements with an interlocutory inflection. Who will ever take you seriously if you speak–and write–this way?

    L&K, MB

  3. Eddie says:

    Once again, the old geezer rises up…

    In days of yore (1970s), when I was in college, my creative writing instructor told us to eliminate “empty” words and phrases. “Sort of,” “kind of,” and “seemed” were among the worst, he said.

    There’s nothing new under the sun.

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