Writing Advice: Rein IT In

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is IT. Which gives me another opportunity to harp on mention one of my favorite subjects. Just two days ago I gave this advice to a new writer whose work I was critiquing. Now I’ll share it with everyone who wants to write clearly and tersely.

Such a simple little word, but oh, the confusion it can cause! Especially when combined with IS. The confusion between IT’S (the verb) and ITS (the possessive) is just one aspect of IT abuse that I often see.

An example of IT confusion: I saw a rabbit hop across the lawn this morning. It took me back to my childhood. A time-traveling rabbit? Or the sight (of the rabbit) took her back?

It-itis can happen when the sentence has a main clause and a subordinate clause or two. For example: The old red barn stands out beside our machine shed. It’s apparent when you see it that it’s going to be a long time before it tumbles down. What’s not going to tumble down — the barn or the machine shed?

This sweater goes well with your outfit, seeing it has such colorful red buttons. The sweater has red buttons, or the outfit?

One day a few weeks back, my husband and I both read a sentence but each took a different meaning from what was said. I found the statement confusing; he said it was perfectly clear. Later I realized that I’d misunderstood what the “it” in the sentence was referring to. I reread the sentence seeing the reference his way and BINGO! Clarity.

One of my favorite non-fiction writers is Phillip Yancey. This man is a pro — or his editors are — at eliminating confusion. I’ve noticed before that “it” doesn’t appear often in his pages. So I opened one of his books, searched through four pages, and found four IT-s. One. Per. Page.

More examples:
As a teen I thought about becoming a teacher, or maybe a coach, but I dropped the idea. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do with my life anyway, rather it became another step on the road to the one I finally chose: helping deaf-blind students.
Most readers will get it, but writers want ALL their readers to understand what they are saying. Revised:
As a teen I thought about becoming a teacher, or maybe a coach, but I dropped the idea. Teaching (or coaching) wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do with my life anyway. Rather, the desire to work with young people became another step on the road to the career I finally chose: helping deaf-blind students.

If he’d wanted me to know about it, he’d have told me instead of clamming up. Instead it became a source of irritation between us until he spilled it to my brother one day when they were arguing over some other issue.
What became a source of irritation, the “it” information he was withholding or his clamming up? Revised:
If he’d wanted me to know the facts, he’d have told me instead of clamming up. Instead his silence on the matter became a source of irritation between us until I learned the truth one day when he spilled the facts to my brother as they were arguing over some other issue.

If the writer doesn’t have e-mail and wants to discuss it by phone we can work with it.
Work with what? The phone, the edits, the manuscript? Revised:
If the writer doesn’t have e-mail and rather wants to discuss her edits by phone we are willing to work with her this way.

I suggest to all writers: Go through your article, story, or manuscript, doing a search for it, its, it’s and it is. Be sure readers will be clear on what IT refers back to.

5 thoughts on “Writing Advice: Rein IT In

  1. I can’t stand it when it’s not clear what it’s trying to say. Its meaning is covered by its overuse of “it.”

    And for clarity, “Its” does NOT need an apostrophe anywhere. It’s already possessive.

    Liked by 1 person

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.