ACWC Writers Blog

Getting Rid of “I” Disease - Assignment 3
Sunday, January 14, 2018 by Andrea Merrell

Too much of anything in a manuscript will wear on an agent, editor, or publisher—not to mention your readers—but nothing as much as overusing the word “I.”

This is what literary agent Chip McGregor has to say: “Print out a copy of your proposal or manuscript and look it over. If the FIRST WORD of every paragraph is the same, you need to go back and change it. (Unless the first word of every paragraph is the word ‘I,’ in which case you need to be slapped by the person sitting next to you, THEN go back and change it.)”

Sounds a little drastic, but he definitely gets his point across.

Writing in first person is tricky when it comes to overusing I. The following paragraph is used with permission as an example:

I folded my hands and spoke aloud. It felt right, only the two of us. “I have more to ask, and I hope that’s all right to do.” I peered into the endless blue, imagining I could see bits of heaven from this side of life. “Please, Lord, watch over my land while I’m away. Wrap a hedge of protection around it so others can’t take it from me. I promise to take special care of it when I return—to make it a good home for Wesley and me.” I kept my face to the sky as the ascending sun warmed my skin and bathed me in a calm I hadn’t felt for weeks.

You can easily see how many times the word I is used, along with flat speaker beats and too much telling. Here is an easy fix for the paragraph:

With hands folded, I spoke the rest of the words with more confidence. It felt right, only the two of us. “There’s more. Hopefully, that’s all right.” The endless blue sky sprawled in front of me like an ocean holding bits of heaven on this side of life. “Please, Lord, watch over my land. Wrap a hedge of protection around it so others can’t take it from me. I promise to take special care of it—to make it a good home for Wesley.” The ascending sun warmed my skin and bathed me in a calm that had been missing for weeks.

As you can see, we have gone from using the word I ten times down to two. The changes also paint a better picture by more showing.

Test your skills by rewriting this paragraph:

I had no idea which direction I should be heading. My GPS was not working, and I was not familiar with the area. I looked at my watch, and then I looked at the rapidly setting sun. I realized it would soon be dark. I had no one to call for help, and I had no clue what to do. When I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the familiar black sedan once again following closely, I sent up a silent prayer for protection. 

Photo courtesy of www.morguefile.com &xandert 


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