Writing Tip: Eliminate Most Occurrences of "Just"


Why make this change?

“Just” is one of those extra words that we often use in speech, but serves to clutter your writing. It’s not grammatically incorrect in most instances, but this is not about grammar. It’s about good clean writing.

There are certainly times to use it. It implies a short time, or a short distance:

He just left.
Just under his chin.

It also means “only,” or “simply.”

He just wanted a new car.
She just wanted to be left alone.

But most of the time you don’t need it, or could replace it with more compelling prose. Take my example.

She will just have to deal with it.

What does “just” add? In this case it means “simply.” You could just as easily have written “She will simply have to deal with it.”

Are either necessary? Consider:

She will have to deal with it.

Is its meaning diminished by removing “just?” I don’t think so.

Consider the example about the car:

He just wanted a new car.

What does that mean? I know it’s not in any context, but let’s consider it standing alone. Is there a better way to say it?

It depends on what the author means. If it is intended to convey only the fact that he wanted a new car, why not just say, “He wanted a new car?”

If it is meant to convey that the character’s only desire was a new car, then why not say that? 

The only thing he wanted in the world was a new car.

Isn’t that more compelling?

What about in dialogue? I give more leeway to dialogue because it’s how people speak. I believe, however, that one should use it sparingly even in dialogue.

So, go through your writing, find every instance of “just,” and see how it would read without it. It may feel odd at first, because you are used to using it in your daily speech. After a while, though, you’ll see the light.